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Starting Line Tips for Marathons and Other Races

What to Do and Not Do at the Race Start

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Updated April 01, 2014

When you've trained for a race, you may be thinking more about the finish line than the start, but being smart and prepared at the start is an important part of a successful race. Here are some tips to make sure your race gets off to a good start.

1. Get to the start early.

Runners stretching before race
Gary John Norman
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the race start, especially if you need to pick up your race packet there. You'll also need to give yourself time to use the bathroom, check your bag, and find your corral (if the race has them). Road closures for the race may affect your route and travel time to the start, so make sure you check the race's website to find out how they recommend getting to the start. You may also want to talk to other runners who have done the race in previous years (or read reviews on websites) to find out how early they recommend getting to the start.

2. Get on the porta-potty line.

If the porta-potty lines are long (and they usually are, at big races), get on line before you need to really go. Most likely, by the time you get to the front of the line, you'll need to go. Don't assume you'll be able to jump on line and go a few minutes before the race. Another tip: Bring your own toilet paper or tissues -- the porta-potties sometimes run low on supplies.
Also see: Tips for Using Porta-Potties at Races

3. Do a warm-up.

Runners Warming Up Before Race
Chris Leschinsky
A pre-race warm-up is especially important when racing in colder weather and for shorter races, like a 5K. (For longer races, your first mile or two essentially serves as your warm-up.) Doing an easy jog or marching in place for a few minutes will dilate your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. A warm-up also raises your muscles' temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. It slowly raises your heart rate, minimizing stress on your heart when you start your run.

4. Wear throw-away clothes at the start.

For marathons and other big races, you usually have to get to your corrals early, which means you've already checked your race bag with your extra layers. So, if you know you're going to be waiting at the starting line for a while, wear an old long sleeve shirt over your race outfit for extra warmth. Rather than tying it around your waist and adding extra bulk, you can throw it away at a water stop once you're warmed up. Some big races even allow runners to throw away extra clothes at the start because they collect the clothes and donate them to a local charity.

5. Get in the zone.

preracerunner.jpg
Michael Blann/Allsport

You'll most likely be nervous at the start, so do what you can to relax. If you have to wait for a long time before the start, find a quiet area away the crowds to avoid feeling anxious. Some runners like to listen to relaxing music to keep them calm, while others have loud, fast-paced songs to get them pumped for the race. You may also find that doing some light stretching, reading, or mediating will help you feel more relaxed.
Also see: Tips for Managing Pre-Race Anxiety
5 Things Mentally Tough Runners Do

6. Wear a garbage bag.

A garbage bag can be one of your most important (and least expensive) starting line items. They especially come in handy if it's rainy or windy at the start. You can wear it instead of throwaway clothes, or on top of your throwaway clothes, if it's very cold. You can make a dress out of a big trash bag by cutting armholes and a neck hole. You can wear it to stay dry while you're waiting in the starting area. Once you get moving and start warming up, you can take it off and throw it away.

7. Line up in the right spot.

lamarathon.jpg
Harry How/Getty Images Sport
Faster runners should line up towards the front of the starting line, slower runners and walkers at the back. Some races, especially big half marathons and marathons, have corrals based on estimated pace. Your race bib should indicate which corral you've been assigned to. If the race doesn't have corrals, look for pace signs that indicate the pace per mile. If you don't see any signs, ask runners nearby about their anticipated pace; if it's faster than yours, move further back. Most races use timing chips, so don't worry about the minutes it takes to cross the starting line -- they won't count in your final time.

8. Be extremely cautious once you start running.

The start can be very crowded and chaotic, so be careful. Some runners fall as they try to maneuver around runners or they trip over a water bottle or piece of clothing that someone discarded at the start. When you line up at a race start, make sure that you don't get distracted by the excitement of the race. Pay close attention to other runners, and watch out for discarded items. If you have to throw something away, make sure you toss it off to the side, away from other runners.

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