If you’re wondering what it feels like to inch your toes past the finish line of a race, then it’s time you start planning your first one. With races gaining in popularity each passing year, there are no shortage of options, regardless of where you live. But, before you can walk away with a shiny medal around your neck, you have to prepare. Here are three simple steps to crossing your first finish line.

Choose an Attainable Race Goal

With so many races to choose from, it may be hard to decide which one is right for you. When assessing your options, be sure to choose one that is realistic for your timeframe and current fitness condition. If you have never run a mile in your life, it may be smart to start with a 5K, progressing more with each race you run. There are a number of benefits to this.

  • Injury prevention: Taking a progressive approach like this allows your body to build strength over-time. Stronger muscles can adequately handle longer distances.
  • Small goals, big reward: If you choose a goal that is too lofty; say a marathon in 5 months with no training under your belt, you’re likely to be disappointed with a slow speed and dismal finish. Setting a small goal allows you step out on race day mentally confident. With one 5k or 10k down you can start to think about a half or full marathon.

Set Up a Training Plan

Once you’ve chosen your race, it’s time to set up a progressive training program which will allow you to build speed and strength. However, just as important, a progressive training program will allow you to build confidence.

While there’s no one training program that is perfect for everyone, there are a few key aspects that are important for nearly every runner:

  • Increase your mileage every week by 10%; this allows you to build week over week, as suggested above.
  • Include cross training; your leg muscles rely on a variety of other muscles to work properly and keep you injury free, so be sure to work your lesser used muscles at least once a week.
  • Don’t forget to rest. While you want to see progress, your muscles need time to rebuild and gain strength. Have at least one day off a week.
  • Be sure to stretch after every run. Proper cool down is one of the most important aspects of working out and maintaining an injury-free body.

Do a Practice “Race”

You never want to do anything on race day that you haven’t done during a run before. That means it’s important to do a few practice races before you make your way to the starting line. Some things to keep in mind:

  • If you buy new shoes, break them in beforehand. Never race in shoes you’ve never run in before. This can lead to blisters and unforeseen injuries.
  • Run in hot heat, run in rain and run on a cloudy day. Knowing how these conditions affect your running will be crucial to doing well on race day.
  • Practice your fueling process; this includes your post-race meal, as well as in-race food, if you plan to have some.

Signing up and training for your first race is an exciting time, but it’s important you take all the appropriate steps. When you choose an attainable race goal, create a proper training plan, and practice beforehand, you’re better prepared to have a successful race worth bragging about.