Common Racing Mistakes to Avoid

Making mistakes during road races is very common, especially if you don't have a lot of experience running race. Here are some of the most common racing mistakes and how you can avoid them. 

Racing Mistake #1: Going Out Too Fast

marathon start
Getty Images North America

One of the biggest rookie mistakes in racing is going out too fast in the beginning of the race. Most runners have at least one story about a race when they felt so great during the first few miles that they ran ahead of pace, only to crash and burn during the final miles. The problem is that if you go out too fast, you'll burn through your stored energy too quickly and your muscles will fatigue faster, leaving you feeling tired and depleted toward the end of your race.

The racing solution: Here are some ways that you can avoid going out too fast:

  • 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 keep in mind that for every second you go out too fast in the first half of your race, you could lose as much as double that amount of time in the second half of your race.
  • Try to make sure you're in the correct starting position. Don't start yourself with faster runners because you'll most likely try to keep up with them.
  • 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.
  • Keep telling yourself that lots of other runners are going to pass you in the first mile. But you'll be passing a lot more later in the race.
  • Practice starting out slow during training runs. When you do your long run each week, try to hold back during the first few miles, so you get used to the discipline of not going out too fast.

Also see: How to Predict Your Race Times
How to Finish Races Stronger and Faster

Racing Mistake #2: Wearing New Clothes or Shoes on Race Day

Runners in race
Yellow Dog Productions

Some runners think that a new pair of running shorts will bring them good luck or give them an extra boost of confidence on race day. Although they might feel good when you try them on, a new pair of running shorts might ride on you or cause chafing once you start running. You don't want to discover at mile 5 of a half-marathon that your new running socks are causing blisters or your new sports bra is not giving you the support that you need.

The racing solution: "Nothing new on race day" should become a familiar phrase to any road racer. Race day is not the time to experiment with a new pair of running shoes, running shorts, or a new sports bra. It's better to stick with your tried-and-true favorites that you know are comfortable. If you get a race T-shirt in your race goody bag before the race, you definitely don't want to wear it during the race. Not only are there bad luck superstitions associated with wearing the race T-shirt, but it will also make you look like a rookie.

More: How to Dress for a Rainy Race
How to Dress for Hot Weather Running
How to Dress for Cold Weather Running
What Not To Wear Running

Racing Mistake #3: Starting in the Wrong Position

Marathon Start
Getty Images North America

The basic rule of lining up for any road race is: Faster people in front, slower people in back. But some runners position themselves too far up, so they start at a pace that's too fast for them (see Racing Mistake #1). Or, some runners start too far back, so they end up having to weave through crowds of slower runners and walkers.

The racing solution: If you think you're going to run faster than a majority of the field, get closer to the front. If you're a slower runner or walker, go toward the back. Many races have posted pace signs for minutes-per-mile. Bigger races have assigned corrals, based on your previous race times or your estimated finish time. Try to start near your estimated pace. If there aren't any pace signs or assigned corrals, ask the people around you what pace they'll be running, so you'll know if you're in the right spot.

Racing Mistake #4: Not Warming Up for a Short Race

Runners Warming Up Before Race
Chris Leschinsky

When you're running a short race that requires a high intensity, like a 5K, your body really needs to warm up if you want to run well. This is especially true if you're racing in colder weather. A good warm-up dilates your blood vessels, ensuring that your muscles are well supplied with oxygen. It also raises your muscles' temperature for optimal flexibility and efficiency. By slowly raising your heart rate, the warm-up also helps minimize stress on your heart when you start your run.

The racing solution: Make sure you do a proper warm-up before any race under five miles. Try jogging slowly for about 10 minutes before you head to the race start. For longer races, your first mile or two essentially serves as your warm-up.

Racing Mistake #5: Eating Too Much or Too Little Before a Race

Bagel for breakfast
Eric Futran/Chefshots

Many runners who are new to racing eat too much before a race. They've heard about carbo-loading and think that they need to take in a lot of additional carbs and calories the night before a race. In reality, for shorter races, like a 5K, you most likely have enough stored energy in your body without having to carbo-load.

The other extreme is runners who are afraid to eat anything before a race because they fear cramping or gastrointestinal issues. They'll usually struggle to get through the last part of their race because they've burned through their stored energy.

The racing solution: If you're running a 10K or less, there's no need to load up on carbs the day before the race. But you shouldn't skip breakfast because you'll need some energy to burn before your body taps into its reserves.

Eat a meal at least one hour prior to the start of the race, so you have time to digest. Choose something high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber and protein. Some good choices are a bagel with peanut butter and a banana; yogurt and toast; a banana and a cereal bar; or a bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk. Stay away from rich, fatty, or high-fiber foods, as they may cause gastrointestinal distress. It's a good idea to practice eating breakfast before your morning training runs, so you're not trying anything for the first time on race day.

More: Should I Eat Before a Run?
What If I Don't Have Time to Eat Before Running?
Common Running Nutrition Mistakes

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