Common Fears About Running Races

1
Fear: I'm going to finish last.

Running a road race, such as a 5K, can seem intimidating to new runners, but you're missing out on a very positive and fulfilling experience if you're too afraid to take the plunge. Here are some common fears about running races and how you can overcome them.

Fear: "I'm going to finish last."
Reality: Over the years, I've heard hundreds of beginner runners confess that coming in last place is their biggest fear when running their first race. The truth is that you probably have as much chance of finishing last as you do of finishing first. Most short-distance races (such as 5Ks) have a number of walkers participating, so if you're planning to run or run/walk, you're most likely going to finish ahead of a bunch of walkers. If you're really worried about finishing last, choose a short fun run or charity race that's walker-friendly with no time limit, so you know for certain that they'll be walkers in the race.

But, more importantly, try not to worry about how your performance compares to the other participants. Running in a road race is all about setting a goal and achieving it, and the only person you should be competing against is yourself. So whether you come in first or last, you're still accomplishing something major. And, at many races, spectators and race volunteers cheer loudly for the back-of-the-packers, so you may actually get more attention if you finish toward the end!
 

2
Fear: I'm too self-conscious to run in front of a lot of people.

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Reality: Many people say they feel intimidated about running in public because they think everyone will be staring at them and making judgments. The truth is that most runners are happy to see new people join the sport because they can remember what it was like when they first started running.

Wearing the right clothes for running may make you feel more comfortable when running in public. For women, it's especially important to wear the right sports bra .

If you're worried about spectators judging you, try to think about it from their perspective. If they're honest with themselves, they're most likely looking at you thinking, "Wow, I wish I had the courage/fitness/dedication to run a race." And if they are making some kind of negative judgment, just brush it off. They're probably doing it to compensate for feelings of jealousy or insecurity for not being out there themselves.

And, remember, the first time is usually the hardest. If you're not used to running in public, you'll feel much more comfortable once you've done it a few times.

3
Fear: I won't be able to run the whole time.

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Reality:

I've never heard of a road race that will disqualify someone for walking. In fact, during most races I've run in or watched, I've seen at least a few people walking at one point. So if you plan to

run/walk

your race or think you may need a walking break, don't sweat it. You'll be in good company. If you're really concerned that you'll be the ONLY person taking a walking break, look for a fun run that's walker-friendly.

If you've done the training for your race distance and you really want to be able to run the whole race, follow these tips to make sure you don't go out too fast in the beginning and end up having to walk to the end:

  • Try to make sure you're in the correct starting position. Bigger races will have signs or corrals to designate runners' pace per mile. Don't start yourself with faster runners because you'll most likely try to keep up with them.
  • Deliberately run your first mile slower than you plan to run the final one. It's tough to do, since you'll most likely feel really strong in the beginning. But you'll appreciate it at the end, when you still have enough energy to run to the finish line.
  • Start your race at a comfortable pace and make sure you check your watch at the first mile marker. If you're ahead of your anticipated pace, slow down. It's not too late to make pace corrections after just one mile.

More: Can I Walk During My Runs?
Tips for Your Walking Breaks

4
Fear: I don't know what to expect.

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Reality: Lots of new runners have anxiety about their first racing experience. They have questions such as, "When should I eat?" "What is the starting line like?" "Could I get lost?" Reading about race day preparation is definitely helpful, but you may feel more comfortable if you attend a race before you actually run one.

Go watch a race or offer to volunteer so you can experience the race atmosphere and get a better idea of what to expect. You can also talk to friends and family members who have done races and ask them for tips and advice. Or, better yet, ask a friend who has run races in the past to "adopt" you for a race and show you where to go and what to do at the race. Most runners would be excited to introduce a new runner to road racing.

More: Road Race Etiquette Tips
How to Take Water from Hydration Stops
How to Deal With Crowds at Races
Dealing With Pre-Race Jitters and Anxiety
How to Use Porta-Potties at Races
Finish Line Tips

5
Fear: I'm too old to be running races.

Older Couple Running
Symphonie

Reality: As long as you're in good health, you're not too old to run races. I've seen octogenarians cross the finish lines of lots of races, from 5K to marathons, and I always think to myself, "I hope that's me someday!" It's very inspiring to see senior citizens who are still out there competing.

Race directors encourage people of all ages and fitness levels to participate in races, and many races offer age groups awards for runners/walkers in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Since those age groups tend to have fewer runners, you may even take home an age group award for your finishing time. My mom, who started running in her mid-50s, has never gone home empty-handed since she ran her first road race several years ago.

You're never too old to start running, and it's definitely never too late to start road racing.

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