How To Sign Up For Your First Race

By Takia McClendon

If you're reading this post, you've probably gone back and forth with the idea of signing up for your first race. You may be wondering "is running really for me?" or "will I even make it across the finish line?". With proper training, the answer to both of those questions is YES. 

Before you can line up for your first race, you'll have to register for one that meets your needs - desired distance, race swag, etc. We've compiled a guide to help newer runners sign up for their first race. 


How far do you want to run?

If you're new to running, you may want to consider signing up for a 5K (3.1 miles) or a 10K (6.2 miles). Both distances can be challenging but with a good training program, you'll be able to make it across the finish line. 

How to start running


What type of run would you like to do?

Once you settle on a distance, you'll have to decide which kind of race will be best for you. Here are a few popular ones: 

  • Charity Runs: These runs are usually hosted by local and national non-profit organizations. They are affiliated with a cause and a portion of race proceeds typically are given back to the organization. 
  • Fun Runs: These themed runs can be timed obstacles courses or untimed runs. They're usually pretty laid back and open to walkers, families, and workout enthusiasts. One of the most popular fun runs is the Color Run. 
  • Trail Runs: A trail race is a run that is predominately run on a tough, technical terrain course. If you live close to a wooded area or trail, you're likely to come across trail runs at some point throughout the year. 
  • Road Races: If you want to keep it simple, a road race - usually hosted by a running event company or running store - is your best bet. They tend to include multiple distance options (5K to marathon) and usually include most expected perks in your race entry fee. 

Whatever you decide to run, be sure to look over the course map in advance. This is the only way to know if there are hills, water stops, cheer zones, etc. along the route. Don't wait to find out about a steep hill on race day. 


When and where do you want to run? 

If you're not excited about the race options in your neighborhood, you can pack a bag and jump on a flight to the Bahamas for your first race. Destination races are a popular option during winter months if you're looking for a reason to escape. 

If you'd like to keep it local, be sure to consider weather (temperatures and humidity) of your race. A July race may be a little on the warmer side and an October race may be perfect. Either way, when and where you run your first race will impact your training program. 

Find a training program that makes sense. Give yourself time to train. If you're brand new to running, you'll want to give yourself a few months before completing your first race. A 5K or 10K training program can last from 4 weeks to four months depending on your training level. Take that into consideration before you register. 

Train for your first 5K with these 5 tips


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Register for your first race:

Once you've picked out a race, you'll have to register via their website or a secure third party platform like Active.com. It's a super easy process but here's what you need to know before you officially register:

  • Fees: As much as we like free stuff, most races aren't free. A 5K can cost anything between $15 and $65+ depending on the race. 
  • Estimated finish time: Many registrations will ask you how long it will take for you to complete the race. Try to answer this honestly because you will be assigned to a starting wave depending on your time. If you think it will take 35 minutes to complete your first 5K, that's what you should write. 
  • Price increases: The closer you are to the date of the race, the more expensive the race may be. Be sure to sign up as early as possible to avoid price increases. 
  • Fundraising: Some races give you the option to fundraise in addition to or in place of your registration fee. Some hard-to-get-into races may have fundraising registrations of $500 so know what you're getting into before signing up. 
  • Lotteries: Very popular races hold lotteries to decide who gets to run a race. There is usually a lottery entry period and then a drawing. If your name is drawn, you will have a spot for that race. 
  • Teams: Some races allow you to create and/or join a team of your family, friends or workout partners. 

What's included in your registration?

Most race entries cover the costs of: 

  • Race Bib: Your race bib displays your assigned number. You'll need to wear this throughout the entire event to help the officials recognize official participants. 
  • Finisher T-Shirt: Some races include a finisher's t-shirt. As tempting as it may be to wear your shirt on the day of the race, try saving it for your first run - or first day back to work - after you come across the finish line. 
  • Timer: Your timer will keep track of your pace and give you your OFFICIAL time when you complete the course. Your official race time and personal GPS watch may differ. 
  • Medal: Some 5Ks and 10Ks don't give out medals at the end of the race but if they do, the price will be included in your registration fee. 

What's usually not included? Those perfect race photos you see of your friends cruising down the road, sweat-free with their thumbs up. Race photos can start at $20/image. 

Ready to run your first race? Running in the USA has a database of races to choose from. Let us know what race you're planning to do in the comments section. 

How to Prepare for Race Day


Takia McClendon is the co-founder of City Fit Girls. She's a shoe expert and manager at a running store in Philadelphia and a Certified Level 1 USATF Coach. Follow her online at @takiamcclendon. 

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