There are some aspects of race day that no amount of speedwork can prepare you for. Dodging gel packs and water cups comes to mind. But there's also a right and wrong way to race with a friend, slow down for walk breaks, and, yes, wear the race shirt and medal.
“With most large races, it's like being on an L.A. freeway at 6 o'clock at night,” says Nick Curl, race director of the Los Angeles Marathon. “You've got a ton of people moving at multiple speeds. You don't change lanes or roll down your window to spit without looking. The same goes with racing—there's a flow that you have to follow.” Here's how to smoothly navigate the subtle points of race day.
Race in the Event Shirt
There's a stigma to wearing the race shirt on the day of the event. “It's considered bad luck because you haven't crossed the finish yet,” says Monica Brookman, a triathlon coach who's led New England Team in Training participants. But more than superstition, it's never a good idea to break out untested gear at the starting line, says Jeff Decker, race director of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota. “You might discover midway that your cool new shirt is uncomfortable, or worse, causing chafing,” he says. That said, if you forgot to pack your singlet and the race shirt is made out of a technical fabric, this is a minor offense that will only offend traditionalists.
Bandit a Race
You didn't pay for the race? You don't get to run the race, says Decker, who's seen unregistered runners accept everything from water to race medals, leaving later finishers empty handed. Plus, bandits are a safety hazard. “Having more runners on the course is dangerous and could strain medical resources if the medical staff has to treat both bandits and participants,” he says.
Use Another Runner's Bib
Not only does the race director not have your information if you get hurt, but you could also mess up the timing, ranking, and awards system. “John Smith might not be the fastest guy out there, but he could go out and run fast enough with Jane Doe's bib to win the female age group,” says Matt Helbig, CEO of St. Louis's Big River Race Management, which is the timer and organizer of more than 140 events in the midwest.
Sneak Into a Front Corral
It can be tough to wait for your assigned wave to start, but sliding forward into a faster corral is bad all around. “Most races are seeded by ability level, which makes for a safer and smoother start,” says Dave McGillivray, race director of the Boston Marathon. “If someone is in a corral where they don't belong, it can be unsafe and make other runners have a less-than-desirable experience.” Starting in a too-quick group, he says, can also destroy your pacing strategy and throw off your own race.
Line Up with a Pet
You may enjoy running with your dog, or while pushing your tot, but other competitors probably won't. It's tough enough navigating around other runners, let alone dogs and strollers. You also can't be certain how your pet or child will handle the race scene, says Curl. What's more, the medical teams may not be equipped to handle pets or children who get sick or injured. That's why many races ban both. It's smarter to seek out fun runs that promote a casual atmosphere, he says.
Portable listening devices are allowed in most races as long you're not going after medals, awards, or prizes, and you're not using it to take calls from your coach. That said, even if your race allows portable tunes, it's best to turn them off before the start. “Folks who wear headphones might as well be on another planet,” says Helbig. “They don't hear anything, whether it's a car or you yelling at them that they need to turn here.” If you must run to music, use just one earbud and keep the volume low: You need to be aware of what's going on around you.
Run with a Partner
Racing with a friend can help you maintain your pace and provide encouragement. But if you're running side by side, you could be blocking the path. “Work together to be conscious of people around you,” says Brookman. “And never run more than two abreast.” Agree on a signal to go from two wide to one, and decide who‘ll go first every time.