My first 5k since becoming a "serious" runner was on St. Patrick's Day of this year. And, like many beginners to road racing, I made many, if not all, of the classic rookie mistakes. Having done about eight 5k's now, I've certain learned loads of lessons about the do's and don't's of road racing. But with my very first 1/2 marathon coming up in just over a month, I'm hoping that the rookie mistakes I learned from that first 5k will serve me well 13.1 miles down the road.
Starting too fast: What with all of the energy and excitement surrounding a road race, it's not hard at all to inadvertently go out too strong at the beginning. I'll never forget the incredible surge of energy I felt hearing the gun go off at the beginning of my first 5k -- I'll also never forget the labored breathing and cramps in my legs after about the first 0.5 mile of gunning it far too hard! If there's one lesson of road racing never ever to forget, it's that pacing is key. Sure, going out as strong as possible in the beginning is tempting, but if it's not sustainable, it's not wise for middle- to long-distance races. I've since learned that conserving energy to push through that final stretch of a race is far more beneficial than giving it 110% effort from the gunshot.
Seeding: On my first 5k, I knew literally nothing about the etiquette or strategy behind seeding oneself appropriately, so in my unadulterated excitement I toed the starting line with the pack of the fastest runners. Not only was it disheartening to have throngs of runners pass me at the beginning, but I didn't realize that I was inadvertently being impolite by getting in their way to begin with. One of the many things I love about road racing is that runners are so polite. There are no court side brawls or referees handing out flags for poor sportsmanship. And a big part of seeding is the etiquette of letting the fastest runners go out first, to minimize their lateral running as they weave in and out of those going at a slower pace. I've also learned that seeding myself appropriately (usually somewhere happily in the middle) is a great motivational tool -- There's no feeling quite like starting off steady and slowly gaining ground on the pack ahead of me.
Hydrating along the way: During my first 5k, I was so dead set on running the entire course that I very nearly spilled water down my front when I grabbed a cup from the aid station at Mile 2. My rational was logical enough, but definitely faulty: "If I take 10 seconds to stop and drink water, I'll lose 10 seconds on my final time." Not only is staying healthfully hydrated far more important than the time on the clock, but taking a mere 10 seconds out to rehydrate can (in my completely unscientific experience) gives me a burst of energy that more than makes up for that in time on the clock.
These running lessons are fundamental enough that I'm confident they'll translate to my first 1/2 marathon next month, but I'm still anxious that there will be specific unforeseen lessons to learn from my first encounter with a long-distance road race!