An Open Letter to Mallory

A bit of history before I get to the “letter”…

Many of you who read this blog may not know that I used to do youth ministry in a parish and on a larger scale as a volunteer with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. I loved every moment of my time there, and while I miss it terribly, I have to believe that everything happens for a reason, and I wouldn’t be where I am now had things (my position was cut due to budget reasons) not happened as they did. It led down a not great path, but as the lyrics in a Rascall Flatts song go “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you” – where I’m the “you” in that sentence. I had to leave a great group of adult friends and a wonderfully amazing group of young people with whom I’d worked – both on a parish level and on the diocesan level. Mallory was one of those on the diocesan level.

A bit more history… Somewhere along the line almost 2 years ago, something inside me switched on (or off?) and I decided it was time to get in shape. I started with the 30 Day Shred. And through tweeting about that, met a great group of online friends and supporters. They encouraged me to check out Couch to 5K, which I did. My first 5K was Labor Day weekend 2010. The same weekend two of my new, encouraging runner friends – Laura and Kari were running the Disneyland Half to get the Coast to Coast Medal. Well, hearing their adventures started something, and I signed up and started training for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, which I completed on January 8, 2011. (And we all know things have only gone longer from there.)

Well, about a year ago, Mallory contacted me on facebook to ask about any tips I had for getting started running and keeping with it. I told her about Couch to 5K (C25K), and ended up sending her my old iPod which already had the C25K podcast I’d used loaded on it. I followed her progress through facebook, and we kept in touch periodically.

Then yesterday I got a message from Mallory. She’s signed up for her first 5K on April 22 – she said she has been stuck on week 6 of C25K and figured signing up for a race might jolt her out of it. And she asked if I had any advice for people running their first race (specifically a 5K). I commented on her FB post about signing up for the 5K that I was going to do a blog post, and she “liked” it, so here it is! It’s for Mallory, but anyone working towards their first (or later as we can always use reminders) race is welcome to read it. 🙂

Dear Mallory,
First off, you are NOT foolish for signing up for a race!! You are brave and strong, and you will do it!! I’m so proud of you!!!

Before I start, please keep in mind that these are things I’ve found to be true for me. Most if not all are things that the experts will tell you as well. But ultimately you’ll find what works for you, and some of those things may differ. That’s ok! We all find what works for us. (Example: I know Rick and I have different prep things and plans that we do…and what works for one doesn’t always work for the other. But you never know until you try!) Running – and racing – is an adventure just like life, and we all do it in our own way!

That said, here are some things that I’ve found to be true. (In no particular order.)

1) Nothing New On Race Day!
Just like it says, you don’t really want to do anything on race day that you haven’t done in your training. That includes your pre-race fueling (breakfast) and during-race fueling (for a 5K you’ll likely just be doing fluids). If the race will be in the morning (most are), you’ll want to do at least some of your training runs (weekends are usually good for this) starting about the same time as the race. That helps you figure out how to fuel your body – I usually do some kind of bread with sunflower seed butter (used to be peanut butter until peanuts started making me wheeze), some juice, some kind of cold caffeine, and water. I’ve done oatmeal, a Clif bar or a Luna bar as well and been ok. Other people can’t do oatmeal at all. So it depends on you. I do recommend avoiding dairy just before a run – it tends to act in your body more as a solid, and it’s a little heavy for a pre-run drink.
Try to find out what kind of fluid and/or nutrition will be on the course. For a 5K it will likely just be water. If they’re going to also have some kind of sports drink, try and find out what it is and practice with it beforehand to see how your bode reacts to it. (Ditto for any kind of food or gel they might have on the course.) If you want, you can carry your own water. I have a Nathan hydration bottle that I carry (it’s got a strap for my hand) so that I can also carry my keys and inhaler. I tend to carry it with me even when I know there will be fluid. I like knowing I’ve got it in case I’m thirsty partway between water stops. But I’ve practiced running with it. Nothing new!
This also includes clothes! If something is going to chafe, you want to know in advance so you can change it, cover the area, and/or discover the wonders of Body Glide. (Body Glide is a wonderful thing!!) Don’t wear the race shirt for the race. 🙂 It’s cool for a charity walk, but for a race…it’s a badge of newbieness. 🙂 And also you’re not used to it so if it fits funny you might end up with chafing where you haven’t had it before. I will say, my first 10K many, many people wore the race shirt simply for another layer as it was much colder and windier than we’d anticipated. That was an exception to the rule, and in 99% of the cases went over whatever people were wearing anyway just as another layer.

2. Line Up A Little Further Back Than You Think You Should
Some races have corrals that they’ve either already assigned you into based on times (if you don’t have a time, you’re usually the last corral), some have corrals with posted paces…and other, smaller races have an honor system line up. If you’re not sure, follow John Bingham’s advice in Marathoning For Mortals: if you’re not sure, ask…chances are, the other person is more in their correct area…just move back a little. But don’t sell yourself short either! Lining up towards the back doesn’t necessarily mean the last row either!
That said, if you do find yourself lined up too far forward, get and stay to the right ASAP. And see #3.

3. Run Your Own Race
It’s so hard to control the pace at the beginning. You’re nervous. Other people are nervous. The adrenaline is pumping. The horn sounds and you’re off. And partway into it you realize you’ve gone out too fast. It happens. If at all possible, start slower than you think you should. This isn’t AS crucial in a 5K as it is for a marathon, but it’s still an important point. If the race allows headphones (see #4), one thing I found helpful for my first couple of races was to make a playlist with songs in a kind of tempo order. I’m very musical, so I adjust to the tempo of the music, and by having a pre-set playlist, I pretty much guaranteed that I’d be starting off at a comfortable for me pace. It seemed to work pretty well for me. (And I can’t remember, but the “race” playlist may in fact be on that iPod…)

4. What About Headphones
First off, know the rules of your race. Some races allow headphones. Some do not. Follow those rules. If a race does allow them and you choose to wear them, make sure that you keep the volume low enough you can hear any announcements being made on the course, you can hear if someone is letting you know they’re passing you (see #5), and most importantly, you can hear if an emergency vehicle needs to get through. I know of at least a couple of cases where an ambulance trying to get to someone in crisis had to creep behind a runner on a narrow section of a course because that runner had music up so loud she (in the cases I’ve heard of it was a female) couldn’t even hear the siren or the crowd telling her to get out of the way. Personally I don’t bother with headphones during a race anymore. I like soaking it all in. But those first couple of races it was nice. (It’s also nice to hear the cheers of the spectators clearly! Great encouragement.)

5. Making Your Way On The Course (subcategory: It Is OK to Run/Walk)
First off, no matter what some people say, if you need to run/walk there is NOTHING wrong with that, even in a 5K. I still do run/walk for all my runs – from training to racing. It’s what works for me. The key is that if you’re going to do it, you’ve practiced your ratio (see #1) and you do it from the beginning. I have a garmin that I set up for my intervals. It gives me a beep about 5 seconds prior to switching. I look around to make sure there’s no one right behind me and move over to the right if at all possible. I also hold up my hand as a signal that I’m about to do something – most people seem to get that means I’m going to slow. I’ve also heard people say “Walking in 5-4-3-2-1” loudly so those around them know what the person doing.
When on the course, you will likely pass some people. The best thing to do is before you start passing them, let them know. I usually say “Passing” or “On your left/right.” or in a case where people are going three, four or more abreast and you have to go through an opening, “Between you.” It’s just common courtesy – and will hopefully prevent crashes.

6. Water Stations
They really seem a lot more complicated than they are. Basically move to the side (sometimes they are on both sides of the road, others just one) of the course, pick a volunteer (those towards the end of the table are usually less busy) and if possible make eye contact and signal to them. Take the cup. I have found that if I pinch it together it is much easier to drink out of while moving. I also if I take a cup will move out of the fluid station zone and over to the side, and walk while drinking. Please don’t stop as soon as you get your cup. It happens all too often and people just end up wet and cranky. There are almost always garbage cans set up after the station. Do your best to get the cup in the can. Definitely look before throwing – and if there’s still fluid in my cup (that’s not water or that I don’t want to dump on my head or arms), I try and dump it in the ground so I don’t hit anyone else with it. You’re not the coach of a winning team – you don’t want gatorade or water dumped all over you. (That said, it will probably happen at some time in your racing experiences.)

7. Trust Your Training
It’s gotten you to the starting line. It will get you to the finish line.

No matter what, have fun! Will things happen you haven’t planned for? Sure. I’ve had races that ended up being much harder than I’d planned. And I’ve had races turn out much easier than I’d anticipated. It’s all about being present in that day and moment and just making the most of it. Don’t worry about being last. Odds are you won’t be! 🙂 And you know what? Even if you are? It’s ok! You still beat everyone who sat home on the couch! And a lot of times you’ll get more cheers because all the other runners are there too! One of the neatest experiences I’ve had was in my first 10K. There was no pace requirement stated when I signed up – but shortly afterwards, those of us who had estimated our finish at longer times got an email letting us know we’d have to be past Mile 4 by a certain time because of having to reopen the route. I knew I was going to be slow, but that really made me ponder. I decided to go for it. As expected, I was one of the slowest running. But that led to a very unique experience as I neared the start/finish line to start my third lap. I heard race officials on their radios saying “Lead Female coming! Lead Female coming!” I knew they weren’t talking about me, and sure enough within seconds I heard her coming up on my right. I moved over to make sure she had plenty of room and cheered as she went by. Once she’d crossed the line, rather than going straight for food or anything, she turned around and started applauding me, encouraging me to keep going and telling me I was doing well. Embrace your slowness (if you’ve got it). Soak all aspects of the race in and have the time of your life!

You can do this Mallory!! If you’ve got any more questions, please let me know! I’m not an expert, but I can share my experiences, and hopefully they’re of some use. You’re gonna rock it on April 22!! Go girlie!!

Love you,


4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Mallory

  1. Here’s a tip – if you have to spit, spit down and in front of you. I have been spit on in the face, on my arms, legs, clothes in so many races by people who just blindly turn their head in the middle of the lane. That’s my beef 🙂 Great list, Beth!

    • Thanks Becca! Excellent addition! I’d also add “or blow snot out of your nose” to that. Look around before expelling any fluid from your body!

  2. Wow! Thanks for this! It is a huge help! And I only meant foolish because I signed up for it without talking to anyone else first and realized I might have to do the event completely on my own …but I think I have found a neighbor to run with me! But thanks again for this – all the info is super helpful and covered all kinds of things I never even thought of! And thanks for the additional tip on spitting and snot…definetly something I would not have thought of but is likely to come in handy

    • You’re more than welcome!! 🙂 You’ll likely find a lot of friendly people around you who are more than willing to chat – and maybe even run with you – when you’re waiting for the race to start. By and large runners are a friendly, welcoming group!

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