From Poop to Pronating: 5 Tips for Running Your First 5K… that no one else will tell you [Plus: Giveaway!]

by Charlotte on October 18, 2012 · 28 comments

Runner’s tummy is generally the first thing I tell people to consider when they’re thinking about signing up for their first race. Oh sure it’s not the sexiest part about running (that award goes to thigh-high compression socks) but whether or not you’re prone to it can have rather explosive implications for the rest of your running career. Which of course makes it my favorite thing to talk about! Forget training plans or shoe fittings, you gotta focus on the important things first. Like whether or not your intestines will become enraged and go all Alien on you at the finish line. For those of you uninitiated, everyone’s bowels react differently to running and for some lucky folks it loosens them way up. Like trample-the-line-to-the-honeybucket loose. And the best part about runner’s tummy is that you don’t know if you’re part of this elite group until it actually happens to you! “Surprised by Bodily Fluids” would be an awesome running memoir. I would totally read that.

Fortunately (or unfortunately?) for me, racing has the opposite effect on my digestive tract. The combination of pre-race jitters and my natural anal retentiveness means that I’m stopped up for a good three days every time I race. (Also weird: the constipating effect only occurs when I do a race. An everyday run around the neighborhood doesn’t effect my poop schedule one bit.) It’s uncomfortable but I can’t complain seeing as the majority of my race buddies’ pre-race routine involves popping an Immodium at the start line. Poor Gym Buddy Allison was chained to her toilet for 18 straight hours after one 20-mile run.

But pooping aside – which I really just tell people about to give them one more thing to stress over since there isn’t much you can do about it except avoid eating a lot fiber pre-race and maybe pack some anti-diarrhea drugs in your pocket – I have lots of other fun tips for people running their first race! Me being me, I didn’t realize I was such a fountain of bizarre knowledge until my already-discussed-genetic-mutant-friend asked me for advice on running his first marathon (which he hadn’t trained for, hadn’t run farther than 12 miles, and yet still finished just shy of qualifying for Boston. Sigh.). Not that the Internet needs more running advice and certainly not from me, the girl who puked her way through a 10-miler because she OD’d on caffeine pills, but while lots of people will tell you about tempo runs and hill sprints I’ll give you the real scoop. About things like poop. I’m a pooper scooper!

See, there comes a day in (almost) every runner’s life where they think “You know what would be fun? Shelling out $75 in race fees to do something I could do for free but with the added bonus of getting elbowed in the face and dropping ice-cold Powerade on my shoes! All that and I get a free t-shirt emblazoned with corporate logos!” So to help you run your first (or 100th) race, here are my best tips… that no one else will tell you.

1. Check out the race swag first. Sure you could march down to the local sporting goods store and buy a gorgeous technical running jacket in any size, style and color you like but it’s way more fun to pay twice as much in race fees so you can get a cheap hoodie with the race name all over it. Because that and the finisher’s medal are your proof that you actually did the deed. (Little known fact: most races hand out the sweatshirts at the packet pickup before race day so technically you could wear the shirt without ever having run the race. Not that I’m advocating that.) So my primary factor in choosing a race is which one has the sweetest swag bag. The race only lasts a half hour (or whatever) but fashion is forever!

2. Be careful where you pin your race bib. That number will identify you as you cross the finish line (or if you have a heart attack on the course and are non-responsive to paramedics) so make sure it’s in a visible spot. Chest, lower abdomen, front quad and back are all popular options. But you have to make sure it’s not in the way of swinging arms, pumping legs or a ponytail that will get snagged on the safety pins. (Side note: I had one friend on Facebook comment about the Olympics “We have the technology to time races to the hundredth of a second, replay finish lines in HD and yet we’re still using safety pins to attach numbers?!” My answer: Didn’t Ryan Lochte already come up with the solution? Golden grilles for all!) This is especially tricky if you’re a girl running in just a sports bra and tiny track shorts. You gotta stick that thing somewhere. Maybe consider a cape?

3. Bring cash. I know, between keys, your iPod and your anti-diarrhea pills you’re running out of pocket space (especially since running short pockets are like 1″ x 1″) but grab a handful of ones and shove them down your bra or something. (When’s the last time someone told you to do that? This is why you need me.) Some organizers are better than others but races are generally more expensive than you think they are going to be. Parking, bag checks, food, beverages in funny shaped bottles, souvenirs, finish line photos… it’s like Disneyland but for sweaty older people.

4. Don’t wear anything new. Start with your shoes:  Ideally they will be shoes you’ve run in plenty (but not too much) so your feet will be used to them. And this does not necessarily mean the ones that match your cute new running outfit. And speaking of new running outfits, races are generally not the time to put on anything you have to take the tags off first. Whether it’s thicker socks or a shirt that hasn’t been tested for chafing, it’s the little things that can bring you down.

5. Run. Before you do the race. You should have a training plan. Whether you are someone who has never run a step in your life or you’re a recreational jogger who is just now branching out into racing, running a race is going to be different than what you know and preparation will help you be confident, avoid injury and possibly even clue you in to whether or not you’ll have some extra jet propulsion of the butt variety on the race course.

It’s that last tip people get all hung up on. (I know, right?!) “How far am I supposed to run?” “How many times per week?” “How quickly can I increase my mileage?” “What’s a tempo run?” “What if I run 15-minute miles? Can I still call it running?” I honestly don’t know. I’ve run enough races to tell you that there are as many training plans as there are people and also that I’ve managed to do it the wrong way every single time. So instead of taking dubious advice from me, I offer you up to the experts. (FREE experts, no less!)

LifeTime Fitness is partnering with gyms all over the country to kick off 2013 with an awesome event called Commitment Day. While it would have been majorly awesome if it was an event to help you get your significant other with the cold feet off the fence or even get you involuntarily admitted to a mental ward, Commitment Day is actually a 5K race on January 1, 2013 to encourage people to commit to making healthy changes in the new year. Sign up at and when you register for the race ($34 for LifeTime members, $39 for others, kids under 18 are free) you can also sign up for a FREE for everyone 8-week 5K training class. If you register by Nov 1, 2012, then you can sign up at at for the closest class to you. You don’t have to be a LifeTime member to take advantage of the free class.

The classes meet twice a week and are conducted by certified run coaches. In addition to basic running training, they will also be covering goal setting, safety & etiquette, training progressions & phases, strength & core training, gear demos, heart rate training and assessments, stretching, nutrition, injury prevention, running form and race preparation. When you do the race you’ll also get a bunch of freebies including a health journal and a (decently cute) technical tee. All that for $39 bucks is a pretty sweet deal! AND, because I want to be on my own infomercial, LifeTime loves me (and you) so much they’ve given me a code for all of you guys for $5 off so you can all register at the “member” price! Just type CORP0598 at checkout. So for GFE’ers it’s 29$ for members, 34$ for non.

In addition, I have 5 free race entries to giveaway! You can run with me in Minneapolis (Mall of America, baby! I can guarantee you there will be tutus involved!) or at whichever race location is closest to you. Just leave me a comment on this post and the random generator will have a love-fest next week.

So – what’s your best tip for a first-time racer that someone either told you or that you’ve shared with someone else? Do you get runner’s tummy?

NOTE: I know I do a lot of stuff with LifeTime and in the past some of you have questioned whether I’m just trying to sell you something so here’s the deal: I totally am. But not because I make any money off it. (I don’t make a penny.) Because a) this is an awesome deal for you and b) I think they’re an amazing company, one of the best I’ve ever worked with, and I want to help them get their healthy living message out there.  While I have gotten some freebies from them in the past (mostly trying out new classes, assessments etc) I have never been paid money by them for any purpose, none of my posts are sponsored by them and I’m not told when, if or how to write about them. And yes I realize that freebies constitute payment in kind but this is not a quid-pro-quo agreement nor am I under any contract with them. That may sound like splitting hairs but in the blog world where many people work for sponsorships and many “reviews” are actually paid advertorials, I want you to know that’s not the deal here. I am pimping this simply because I genuinely think it’s an awesome idea. For anyone who’s ever wanted to run a 5k but didn’t know where to start, it doesn’t get any better than this! I also love that LifeTime is donating 100% of the proceeds to charity. If you have any questions about the nature of my partnership with LifeTime, I’m more than happy to answer them!

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jess October 18, 2012 at 5:07 am

What a cool offer! I love the idea of racing on Jan 1 to kick start healthy habits. Although part of me did think – but I might be hung over that day, could I make it through 5 k hung over? Thankfully I don’t get runners tummy. But it cracks me up to read about everyone else’s mishaps!


Mel Givens October 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Lucky you! I was so surprised the first time I got (what I later found out to be) runner’s tummy, and it was no good surprise either let me tell you that! haha


Crabby McSlacker October 18, 2012 at 6:39 am

OK, this is the BEST guide to running races I’ve ever read!

I would have never thought of the stuff like tummy issues or checking out the swag first.

The main reason I don’t race, even when I’m injury free, is I HATE to be in a situation with lots of people and possibly limited bathroom access especially in the morning after coffee. Hearing how high race fees are relative to swag value makes me glad I’m never too tempted.

And really, people actually question who you partner with and what you might get out of it? I am a total whore when it comes to accepting free things in exchange for covering them on the blog; I figure as long as I am honest when I write it up, I’m good! But readers are so used to my ways I never hear a peep about it. You are apparently held to much higher standards.


Kati October 18, 2012 at 6:40 am

UM YES, I want to run with you in Minneapolis.

“Pick me, choose me, love me!” – Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy


Naomi/Dragonmamma October 18, 2012 at 6:46 am

My tip: Do not experiment with your food during the 24 hours before a race. This is not the time to experiment with a new power bar or energy drink that you’ve never had before. If you always have fried eggs and coffee for breakfast, continue to have fried eggs and coffee for breakfast. Routine is your friend.

Ditto for water consumption. If you’re not a big water drinker, don’t drink a bunch of water because other people pressure you to. A 5k is only about half an hour; the human body can easily last that long without drinking anything!


Kristina October 18, 2012 at 7:53 am

I ran my first 5k in 17 years last month and would like to do a few more so my high school self isn’t so embarassed by my time. A nice winter run in the cities would be super fun.


Happier Heather October 18, 2012 at 9:31 am

Thankfully, I do not get runner’s tummy, but I sympathize for those who do.

Also, a runner friend taught me after my third race to always choose races based on the swag. Best advice ever!

Another option for race bibs is to get the SPIbelt with the toggles that are specifically made for attaching race bibs; then, it’s out of the way AND you have room for your cash, ID, phone and anti-diarrhea meds.

As for racing on New Year’s Day, I ran Polar Dash last year and because the course was terrible and it was cold and windy, I would have preferred to stay in bed. I also didn’t drink much beer the night before (New Year’s Eve) because I didn’t want to risk runner’s tummy. But then again, I also ran a race on New Year’s Eve last year and PR’ed after drinking beer and eating sweet potato fries for dinner…


Jam October 18, 2012 at 9:32 am

I always start at the back for larger races. They are all chip-timed so I think your race time is actually better this way because by the time you start the massive amount of people on the road has thinned out a little and you can move in-between them to get ahead. When I have started near the front the amount of people was so dense you could hardly even run. And I always take some cheap gloves if it is cold before the race, ones that I wouldn’t be sad if I lost.


Fat Girls Closet October 18, 2012 at 10:02 am

Your article was hilarious, I could have almost pooped myself reading it! See what I did there??

I absolutely LOVE that they’re doing that challenge! I would love to participate, but can’t yet. My knee isn’t ready. I’m hoping to have it better conditioned by next spring, because I would LOVE to start running again. My biggest piece of advice as a former (and hopefully future) runner is to pay attention to injuries. If you think you’re hurt, don’t try to keep pushing yourself. You can do a lot of damage to your body and make recovery time just that much longer. If you hurt yourself, assess the injury before continuing. I know from personal experience how hard it can be. I’ve broken my right ankle seven freaking times, two of which were while running. One of the reasons my ankle is in such bad shape is due to waiting too long to have it examined and continuing to run/walk on it. The other reason is my knee, it sucks and likes to randomly give out. :)


Heather @ Bake, Run, Live October 18, 2012 at 10:22 am

Sadly, I get runners tummy before Every. Run. It’s bad because I have to include it in my morning routine, but good because once I start running, I have no issues.

Most larger races have a lot of information on their web-site. Make sure to read it well, or even print it out. This helps not only the runner, but any family members that might be wanting to cheer you on (specific places to see a runner, where to meet at the finish/family reunion area).
If you are traveling to a race by yourself and need to carry a room key or car key, practice this on a run to make sure the item will stay put. I safety pin my car key to the inside of a pocket (I run in Skirt Sports running skirts- love them!), so that I don’t have to worry about losing it.


Sam October 18, 2012 at 10:28 am

Dude, awesome! I get free race entries from my team, so don’t sign me up for the giveaway, but I have lots of racing experience I’d love to share. I was super intense about running when I first started and was scared to race 5k until I was sure to break 20 minutes. In retrospect, I wish I had relaxed a little and run some practice races before that, because I was SO FREAKING NERVOUS on race day I hyperventilated. Don’t do that. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to hurt but be fun.


1. Two words for stomach issues: PEPTO. BISMOL. I used to get diarrhea and cramps during every SINGLE run longer than 5 miles… not fun. My GI doctor told me to pop 2 pepto bismols before I headed out to the track or road, and bam, fixed. I didn’t even change my diet much except to focus on fewer raw vegetables and more whole grains.

2. In a race, talk to the other runners before the start. Ask about the course. Ask the people around you what splits they’re planning. I know, I know, it’s a race and you can’t count on others to pace you… but it’s been really useful for me in the past. At the very least, chat before the race just to loosen up. You can use your social skills to see who seems friendly. If you lack social skills, not sure what to say there. But I wound up on one really hilly 5k course that I had NO idea was so hilly talking to a guy who ran about my pace. His info on the course completely changed my race plan, so thank goodness–I was about to go out way too fast. I followed him, saved some for the end, and blasted past him with 200m left, to eke out a .1-second 3rd-place finish. And get this, he was totally gracious afterwards and even wheezed out an encouragement as I passed him! (He was a good 20 years older, and thus, quite gracious–also a nice guy).

3. Which brings me to… KNOW YOUR PACE. You aren’t going to train for 27-minute 5k and suddenly bang out a 21-minute 5k unless you’ve been radically underestimating your fitness [or the course is short]. If you are really into it, run a time trial. You can probably shave a few seconds off that in the actual race what with adrenaline, but not whole minutes. Unless you’re my dad, who suddenly went from an 8:00 mile to a 7:23 in a mile race. However, he HAD been completing his 400m intervals at 7:00 pace, so I wasn’t surprised; he simply hadn’t understood how to push himself prior to the race itself.

4. Speaking of pushing yourself: in a 5k, you shouldn’t be out of breath until just after the first mile. The second mile is hell. The third mile passes in a delirium of pain, after which you are somehow expected to sprint the last 200m. You will, if you race it properly, feel like vomiting at the end. Try not to. The pepto bismol helps.

5. After the race, WALK AROUND to cool down. This prevents stiffness and soreness and even injury.


Jenna Z October 18, 2012 at 11:00 am

When I ran my first race, I was most concerned with if/what I should eat for breakfast. A good tip is to eat whatever you normally eat before you run. If you normally run in the am before you eat breakfast (like me) DON’T eat before the race. If you run in the afternoon a few hours after you’ve eaten lunch, then eat a lite breakfast a few hours before start time (probably at home before you leave for the race site). The meal the night before doesn’t really matter unless you’re doing a race more like a marathon, just don’t eat an entire greasy pizza or a gallon of ice cream, which might cause some super tummy troubles.


Alyssa (azusmom) October 18, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Yet another reason why I don’t run.
OK, not really. More like another excuse I can pull pull out whenever it’s convenient.


jen October 18, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Some of the local running shops have a Couch to 5k classes as well (I coach one for a local shop in MD). Another important thing is to run your own race – don’t let the crowd sweep you up and start out faster than your normal pace! I still have to remind myself to do that! Also – get in line for the port-o-potty when you get to the race, then get right back in line when you’re done – I guarantee the line grew while you were waiting!


Matt October 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Doh! Number 5 is the lesson I need to learn.

At my old job my coworkers would sign me up for an annual 5K. Mind you I only run when chased. So when the race was on my competitive spirit would kick in and I would run as hard as possible for as long as possible……. And the. Be unable to walk the next day.

I’m glad I’m so good at amusing my coworkers. :)


delia October 18, 2012 at 8:44 pm

How awesome would it be to win a race entry to a 5k for New Year’s Day in MPLS just a few hours from me. However, I will be working that day :(.


Amy October 19, 2012 at 8:06 am

Ok Charlotte. I think you could appreciate this.
I don’t run. I hate it. I don’t even know how long a 5k is (why are these things in metric, anyways? Marathons aren’t. But I digress.).
I took a boot camp class, and one trainer used running as a warmup. He assured me that I would learn to love it. I don’t.
My trainer told me I do not need to run. He said I can lose the weight I want to without running. Then, he offered an outdoor boot camp. The last part of it was running. Barefoot. Outside. (Please understand, I hate being outside in the summer almost as much as I hate running). It’s not like I could refuse- I was in the middle of a park and I wouldn’t be able to get back by myself (or so I thought- we ran to the end of the trail and back).
He assured me I could do it and he “ran” with me. But barefoot running was very different than I expected. I’m glad we were in the middle of the woods, because I am sure we looked ridiculous (I know my trainer did!) It was more prancing. But it was the first time it didn’t hurt my ankles, knees and back.
So, I guess I could be tempted to prance through a race. But the swag better be AWESOME!


Meghan@themeghamix October 19, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Haha – I love the number of times poop appears as an important piece of your posts. Good advice and good humor as always!


Truc October 19, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I’d love a free entry! woohoo.


Bek @ Crave October 19, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Haha you are so crude, but I love it! Oh and I don’t mind you advertising Lifetime, sounds like an awesome idea! :) Even if you DO get paid- gotta make money somehow right


Teresa Eskew October 19, 2012 at 11:41 pm

Focus on getting a good night sleep two nights before the race. This way if you have pre race night jitters and cannot sleep your body will be fine for the run. Bonus, you usually end up sleeping well that night too because you are less stressed trying to go to sleep. Justlie in bed so your body gets the rest.


Jonathan Aluzas October 20, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Love the post, love your writing style.

Only problem with pinning your bib to your chest is if you’re doing a mud run or obstacle course race. Then that bib becomes a flap of sloppy, unhinged skin. Better to just magic marker your number to your forehead. It’s more likely to stay legible and makes you look bad ass.

Runner’s trots are a nightmare. Had them twice only, but twice to two times too many. I won’t go into graphic detail, but it didn’t end well for me. Make sure to spend some quality bathroom time before any race. Trust me on this one.


Hannah October 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm

two people already added my two additional thoughts – sleep well the night before the night before the race. I always get pre-race jitters especially for triathlons and I freak out that I am going to forget something… and definitely don’t mess with your normal food intake, the day of the race is not the time to experiment. For longer races definitely train with and figure out what nutrition is best for you.

Running is my weakness – I am so slow that I hesitate to call myself a runner. The other day I was running in my neighborhood and a woman running with a stroller passed me so quickly and effortlessly while I probably sounded like I was hyperventilating. sad. Definitely the focus over the winter so that I can improve the tris – I need to sign up for some winter races to keep me motivated.


Michelle October 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm

If you are into swag do the warrior dash. In addition to the free T you get a Viking hat. Need I say more? :)
What they don’t tell you is that the race takes place on a ski slope so it is extremely steep uphill and downhill; if there was any flat surface I didn’t remember, and the video does not convey this. It was pretty awesome though. I would do it again and the Groupon didn’t hurt.


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