Now that I have my first race under my belt, I’ve literally spent the last few days analyzing everything. I didn’t do as well as I would’ve liked – what could I have done to improve my experience? How could I have performed better? What would’ve helped?

As I reflect, I figure someone could take something away from my notes, here. Though I’m writing about this and thinking about my race experience, I think I’d probably take this approach for any new race I was running. Many people run the same races over and over again each year… but in order to do that, you’ve got to run it that first time, first. Here are a few things I’m probably going to have to consider while preparing for new races:

1) Do some spy-work. Find out about the race track before you get to the starting line. What threw me for a major loop is the abundance of hills in the race and, as we all know, having to hike up a hill not only affects everyone’s speed, thereby causing them all to get in your way, but also affects your energy expenditure. If you’re meticulous about your energy intake and expenditure throughout your race, an unexpected hill will greatly affect whether or not you’ve got enough energy to carry you through the next fueling station.

2) Figure out your particular race’s procedures in advance, and prepare for that. It’s one thing to understand “how most races operate,” but how does your race operate? Do you have friends, running group-mates, twitter followers or facebook friends who’ve run your race? Can they tell you what to expect? I can tell you straight up, I wasn’t prepared. I almost missed my starting time because I had to dart across the Pentagon parking lot to drop my things off and then run – literally, Go-Greased-Lightning-style – back to my wave to get started. Be obnoxious with your question asking, and ask an official, or someone who has clearly run it before. Carefully review what you receive from your race packet, and hit up your twitter (and follow @bgg2wl!) or your FB (and like BGG2WL) and ask questions there. Before you know it, you’ll feel more prepared… and won’t almost miss your starting time… like somebody we know.

3) Find out about water and fueling stations, and govern yourself accordingly. The Army Ten Miler had water and fueling stations every 2 miles which can be every 30 minutes for a newbie runner, or every 18 minutes if you’re a #bawse. Plan ahead – do you need water in faster time increments than that? If so, do you need to acquire a reliable fuel belt? Do you need to get yourself a back-pack-water-juggy-thingy?

4) Figure out your potty situation. And, if you’re running the Army Ten Miler, realize that there is no peeing in the Potomac. I’m going to have to spend the next year training myself to accept port-a-potties in my life… or learning how to install a catheter. I’m kidding. Sorta. It is absolutely unrecommended to run any extended race with no hydration, but you also have to account for potty-waiting time in your running time… which is frustrating if you’ve got a time goal you’re trying to meet.

5) There’s community out there. Don’t forget to smile and laugh, and take in everything around you. Y’all are out there struggling together. There was one guy, in a pink skully, who I kept catching pace with. We never spoke, but since he was keeping good time, I always kept him in my sights. I think he knew it, too, because he would stop running and walk whenever I caught up with him, and then run back up to catch up with me. After everything was said and done, and we were at the awards ceremony waiting, he walked past and waved goodbye to me.

There’s also the woman who rolled up to me and said, “You know, I can’t stand you tall women. My sister’s tall as you and I can’t stand her either.” I told her, “You better love us, or we’ll just use you as our personal arm rests.” And we both laughed about it… until another woman came up to me talking about my height, at which point I felt like I was wearing a “Come pick with me about my height!” sign on the back of my shirt.

And, of course, there’s the sign that was about .3 of a mile away from the finish line, that said “GO, RANDOM STRANGER, GO!” which is why the pictures of me from the final mile all look like I was seriously hoofing it. Nothing better than encouragement from thoughtful people who are kind enough to consider the “random stranger” as well as their friend. (Also: I may even consider holding up my own “Go, random stranger, go!” sign at the NYC Marathon coming up. Hmmm…)

Alright, y’all… what’d I leave out?