Do's and don'ts: taking on your first shorter race

Training going well? Feeling confident? Test yourself with a shorter race. Our London Marathon runner Anne gives her top tips on tackling a 5K, 10K or half-marathon.

If you’re feeling comfortable running a Parkrun and are looking for your next challenge, it could be time to take the next step – quite literally – and sign up for a race. There are thousands going on around the country, so chances are you’ll find one to suit you.

Don’t be put off by the word ‘race’ – run it in your own time, at your own pace, and be proud.

Here are few tips I’ve picked up along the way. These aren’t marathon tips (I’ll give you a few of those after April 22nd) but for shorter runs, hopefully they’ll help:


  • Spend a bit of time planning. A day or so before, find out about parking, gather any coins together for a meter, work out where you’re going to put your car keys, find out if there’s a baggage drop... and allow plenty of time for all of the above.
  • Find out how you get your race chip and number: are you sent it in the post or do you have to collect it? If the latter, what time does it open? You want to strike a balance between not queueing for hours and not hanging around.
  • Wear layers as once you get cold, it’s really hard to warm up. But once you’re warm, you can peel them off.
  • Bring some jelly babies. These little bundles of sugary joy will give you a boost when you’re flagging.
  • If you want to challenge yourself, see if there’s a pacer at the start. When I was little, Pacers were chewy, minty green and white striped sweets; I’m not talking about those. A pacer’s objective is to get you to run the race in the time you want: so if you want to run a half marathon in 2 hours 10 minutes, for example, look for the flag. These guys and girls will move heaven and earth to get you to complete the race in the time you want.
  • Thank the marshals – they’ve given up their time to help you. At the Watford Half Marathon recently, around half the runners thanked every single marshal. Likewise, thank the pacers, and the lovely people manning (or womaning) the water stops.
  • Take advantage of a pre-race massage – there’ll be a massive queue later, the massage area is a warm and friendly place to wait, and it will loosen up any stiffness. It will also help you overcome nerves.


  • Ignore any bystanders cheering you on because you think they’re cheering someone else. They’re not – they’re cheering YOU. You’ve earned it.
  • Feel bad about walking up hills. Some people find it really helps them. Personally, once I stop running, that’s it, but lots of people walk and it helps them accelerate as they begin their downhill.
  • Worry about what anyone else is doing. Seriously. Let them overtake you, puff and pant past you, race up the hills as if their life depends on it... This is your goal.
  • Ask what the huge tubs of Vaseline are for. I can tell you: they’re to stop chafing (even that word sends shivers down my spine). It might be wise to try a race first then work out if you need it, rather than rub yourself in the unctuous stuff and slip and slide along the course feeling like a chip pan.
  • Have anything digging into you, sticking out or flapping around: it will really start to annoy you. Cut off labels and tuck in t-shirts.
  • Under any circumstances, look at any ‘official’ race photos. Unless you look like Angelina Jolie. I look like a gargoyle in most of mine. It scared my husband, I can tell you.

Get inspired by our shorter runs

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Anne Amlot
Anne Amlot