A regular participant on another website (JakeKnight on the RunningAHEAD forums) posted the following in response to a question concerning tips for first timers:
Here’s a long and exhaustive (but not complete) list of some of the important stuff in completely random order, provided for absolutely no reason at all:
1: Get there early. However early you were planning to get there, get there a half hour before that. Nothing sucks worse than getting there at the last minute. Add another 15 minutes if you haven't pre-registered. Get there early and you can meet people, scope the course, find the bathrooms, run a warm-up, etc. It's supposed to be fun - and stress ain't fun.
2: Take toilet paper. Seriously. If you don't need it, fine. If you do, you'll thank me. As a bonus, it can make you popular, once the TP runs out. No joke.
3: Speaking of which - get to the bathrooms/porta-a-potties early. As soon as you get your number. No guarantees you'll get the chance much later. Quit laughing. This bathroom stuff is probably the most valuable advice you can get. Ignore it and you'll learn the hard way. Having to poop for 5 miles is only funny when it happens to somebody else.
4: Start farther back in the pack than you think you need to (especially if they're using chip timing). It's way, way more fun to pass people than to be passed. (See the threads on the timing chips for a ridiculous amount of info on the subject).
5: If you care about your time, wear a watch, and time yourself. Remember to hit it once you reach the start, and when you cross the end. Seems obvious, right? Don't forget. If there aren't chips, it's the only way to guarantee an accurate time, at least for your own records. Have a rough idea how fast you want to be going at each mile marker. If you're way fast, slow down, etc. Again, it's more fun to be speeding up in the last mile than to be a participant in the ever popular Slow Trudge of Death. Then again, if you're slow but hurting, don't race to beat the watch. Have fun, and forget your time during the race - you can obsess about it later.
6: If you do wear a watch, make sure you're not looking down at it when you cross the finish line. Practice finding the button without looking. Trust me - everyone ruins their finish photo doing this. Look up and smile. Bonus points for triumphant hand raises and/or obscene gestures.
7: In case the above wasn't clear enough - start slow. No, even slower. Especially in your first race. There will be a lot of people around you who will set their own personal bests in the 800 meters once the race starts. These are the people you'll be smiling at in 4 or 5 miles as you pass them. Try not to laugh at them. It's mean. But if they’re puking and fainting, get video. Post it on You Tube. That’s always fun.
8: If there's a timing chip, secure it as much as you want. Plenty of loops. Two plastic thingies. If you've never seen one and have no clue what I'm babbling about, ask a volunteer to help you. They charge you money if those things fall off. Plus, it's always fun to make getting the chip a challenge for the volunteer at the end. They love that.
9: Run a warm-up mile or two. I know - you're thinking you're already running a long way, why run farther? Because you'll probably ignore the above and start out too fast, and you'll be glad you were warmed up ahead of time, especially if it’s cold out. At least jog a little.
10: While you're warming up - since you have plenty of time - play around with where you like to wear your race bib (the number they give you). Personally, I hate wearing it on my shirt, and it took me a while to figure that out. So I stick it on my thigh. No, not in the meat of my thigh, cuz that would hurt. On my shorts. Maybe you’ll like the opposite. I know it seems silly, but after an hour of running anything that annoys you at the start can become really irritating.
11: At the water stops, head for the last cups not the first – and if you’re walking while you drink, get over to the right before you start. So people don’t throw things at you.
12: Walk while you drink. Even if you weren’t planning on walking, the 20 (or, say, 17) seconds it takes is worth it to actually drink rather than wear the water. And you’ll run faster later. Passing the people too cool to walk is once again one of the more pleasurable moments in the race. (Ask Trent.)
13: Ditto to the above if you are intentionally taking walking breaks. Get to the right. Be polite. At the very least, don’t be yakking with your four friends all running shoulder-to-shoulder and then come to simultaneous stops. If you do this, people will throw heavier things. Sharp things, too.
14: If you listen to your iPod, keep it low enough so you can hear what’s going on around you. Or expect more heavy and sharp things to be tossed in your direction. Of course, it’s runners doing the throwing, and they’re generally weak and pasty … so don’t worry too much.
15: Figure out a good running “play list” for your iPod and use it. You do not want to be searching through Air Supply’s Greatest Hits for a song that actually has a beat you can run to. Trust me on this one. Grooving to “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” will not boost your adrenaline. Oh – and how do I know the name of an Air Supply song? Easy. I asked Trent and Scout. They’re fabulous.
16: If somebody else breaks rule 14, elbow them sharply if they won’t get out of your way. And curse them out, too. Don’t worry – they can’t hear you, remember?
17: Don’t listen to your iPod. Or at least consider not listening to it.
18: Do nothing new on race day. I mean nothing. No new shoes. No new clothes. No super duper new technique you read on a message board. And above all else, no new food. (But again, if you ignore this, get video when you’re heaving your guts out. Become a You Tube star. Be my hero.)
19: Don’t eat too much on race morning. Don’t eat nothing either. A banana and a bagel. Toast and one cup of coffee. Some orange juice. Stuff like that. But a double Grand Slam at Denny’s with a side of biscuits and gravy? Not so much. Well, unless you really want to be popular on You Tube. Because as everyone knows, if you can get it coming out of both ends, your legend will last for years – especially if it’s on film.
20: Bring some warm clothes you can strip off right before the race and put back on right after the race.
21: Bring a crew. Which usually means a spouse. Or a kid. Or a pal. Dogs are nice, but not as helpful. It’s always handy to be able to have someone to toss stuff to once you realize you don’t need it. Like a hat or gloves or sunglasses. Or your iPod.
22: If you take your cell phone with you on the race, people like me will be laughing at you. If you actually answer it, expect more of those sharp and heavy but weakly thrown object to come flying in your direction. (One exception: if you happen to be the race director of the race in which you’re currently running. Otherwise, you’re just an uber-dork who needs to have a cellphoneectomy).
23: If you have no crew (that’s your hubby), and no clue what you’re doing with extra stuff, either take cheap stuff, or at least put your name in it somewhere. Or just have a rich spouse. Both are fine. The point is that at mile 4.5, if you’re over-heated enough, you may be tossing that sweatshirt away, no matter how much you spent on it.
24: Do not wear the t-shirt you just got at registration. Don’t do it. Just say no. Don’t ask why. Just don’t. If you break both this rule and rule 22, you’ll be declared the largest geek in the universe, and the world will end. Who needs that?
25: Under dress on cold days. No, don’t be semi-nude – but be cold at the starting line. If you’re warm at the starting line, you’re wearing way too much. You’ll be plenty warm soon enough. If it’s above say 55 degrees, come as close to being naked as possible. I’d suggest nudity on warm days, but there are some support issues involved.
26: Bring beer.
27: Bring me a beer.
28. Have fun but run hard. It’s a race. Make it hurt. If you puke at the end, people will clap. Okay, I’ll clap. But puking is good. Runners dig all biological functions.
29: Try and go easy in the first half and run hard in the second. Races tend to be faster when your pace is even throughout or slightly faster in the second half. And as aforementioned, you’ll get a huge kick in mile 5 out of passing all the dorks who sprinted away from you at the starting line.
30: Even if you walked and jogged the whole way, sprint the last 100 yards. Why? Cuz it’s fun. And your race picture (assuming somebody takes one) will be much cooler. Then it can become a nice avatar to impress your online friends.
31: If the event is big enough for spectators, wear something with your name on your shirt, in very big letters. It gets you personalized cheers. No kidding. Remember this for your first marathon. Hearing “Go, Jake, you sexy stud!” is way, way better than “you can do it, unknown dude …”
32: If the race has a course map, check it out ahead of time. Know where the hills are. It can be really nice knowing what’s coming next. Rounding a corner and finding an unexpected steep hill is depressing. Also, for more bonus points, you can use the info to your advantage: when a big hill’s coming, tell the dork with the cell phone that he should sprint on ahead since there’s a big downhill around the next turn. Good times.
33: At the start of the race, if they’re organized enough to have a color guard and somebody sing the national anthem, stand still for a minute and enjoy the morning. Consider even taking your hat off. If you’re really radical, put your hand on your heart. But please don’t yak in a loud voice about what happened on American Idol last night. Sorry. Pet peeve. Don’t mind me.
34: At the end of the race – stick around. Cheer on the slower people. And no matter how slow you are, odds are somebody’s slower. Odds are a lot of people are slower. If you run sub-1:10, there maybe be hundreds of people slower than you. Hang out and support them. With beer in hand and video camera at the ready. It can be the best part.
There. That should get you started. I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty.