Big name races draw millions of runners each year. While a lot of runners prefer the camaraderie big races provide, new runners can be confused about the logistics of these races.
Packet pickup for most large races runs the two days prior to race day with some extending up to four days prior. Packet pickup will be complete with a race expo where you can visit vendors to pickup running supplies, official race gear and hear guest speakers. Different races offer different perks in their packets, but each race will include a racing bib and timing chip. There are different types of racing chips. If the racing chip needs to be attached to your shoe, instructions will be included. Your packet should also include instructions on where to park or how to commute on race day. For races starting in urban areas, you’ll have several options of where to park. It’s always best to be prepared with some cash. You’ll want to get to the race site at least an hour before the race starts to make sure you have ample time to park. Some races may even suggest more time.
You’ll have the option to check excess gear before the race. Your packet pickup bag will double as a gear bag. A tag with your bib number (usually attached to the top or bottom of your bib) will be attached to your gear bag. Gear check is a great option, but never include anything that can’t be replaced in your gear check bag. The one problem with gear check is most drop zones are not extremely close to the starting line. You still may need some more coverage before your race starts. Some people chose items they don’t mind losing (think Savers, Goodwill or garage sales). Anything thrown out on the course will be donated to a local charity. Others use mylar blankets from previous races. My personal choice is using a heavy trash bag with a hole cut out for my head.
Lines for the bathrooms will be long, so allow plenty of time if you need to use them. Some races will assign you a corral ahead of time and others will allow you line up according to the pace you’re planning on running. Some corrals are patrolled more tightly than others. Each corral will be clearly marked. It can be tempting to cheat and move up a corral to gain an advantage but everything moves a lot smoother if you stay true to your pace. Your official time will be based on when your chip crosses the starting and finish line, so don’t be concerned if you don’t cross the starting line until several minutes into the race.
Course maps will show you where the water stops are located. Your race packet or the race website should also tell you what kind of hydration drink is being provided on the course. One advantage to a large race is you’ll always be around other runners so there’s no risk of getting lost along the course. Once you finish you’ll get your medal, have a chance to take your official finisher’s photo, pick up any gear checked and get some snacks to refuel.
If you’re new to large races, don’t let them intimidate you. The key is allowing yourself plenty of time on race day. Large races are a great way to see your favorite cities and enjoy the company of other runners.
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