If we knew all the obstacles we’d face in our first half marathon, it’s unlikely we’d ever start.
Which is why in some respects, I’m glad I didn’t know that it was crazy to go from “I can’t run a mile” to “what, a road trip for a half marathon, I’m in!”
If you’d told me in 2002 – as I crossed the finish line after running my first race ever (the Rock N Roll Nashville half marathon) – “Amanda, from here out you’ll be running 1,600 miles a year and at least 8 marathons,” I’d have found a hole to crawl in because that run was fun, but it’s too hard to imagine doing times two!
On the other hand, there’s a lot that would have saved me some mental anguish.
So to answer your questions about how to have your best half marathon (or best race in general) here are 18 of the things I wish I’d known about how to train for a half marathon as a beginner.
18 First Half Marathon Tips
Obviously after 15+ years running, I have a LOT to say on the topic. That means I can provide a ton of links for you to dive into depending on where you’d like to focus in an attempt to run your best race.
Most of these lessons apply to running any new distance, but are tips that I found especially pertinent to the half marathon.
1. Slow Down
Push yourself, it’s race day after all, but when you find yourself hitting paces you never saw in training take a breath and reel it back in. It’s easy for even experienced runners to get swept up in the excitement of the thousands of runners, the cheers and the idea that race day is finally here.
But, you have no idea what their training looked like, so don’t let any ego pressure or adrenaline push you to keep up.
Bonus: It’s way more fun to be passing people at the end, than praying it was over.
Read more on how to pick your goal race pace >>
2. Have Fun
Remember that you signed up for this whole crazy thing to have a fun goal that would keep you motivated. While you’re going to push yourself just a tad harder on race day, it’s not supposed to be miserable and in fact you might find you actually love it, if you just take a second to look around.
Everyone talks so much about what hurts or what didn’t go well, that I think we forget this whole thing can be a whole lot of fun! There are people in whacky costumes, friends and family ready to support you and we must never forget the post race meal…mmm burgers.
Read more on managing race day nerves >>
3. Practice Good Nutrition
Good nutrition planning is not just for elite runners; you can’t wing it on race day.
It’s about being well hydrated in the days leading up to the race, getting your electrolytes balanced and learning what fuel works for you during the run. Just because the packet says 1 gel every 30-45 minutes doesn’t mean you need that…it also could be why you’re suffering runners trots.
Read the myths of carbo-loading>>
4. Create a Packing Checklist
If you’ve ever been called Type A this is the time to really put it to work for you.
Get totally anal retentive about planning what you are bringing to the race. You can certainly buy things last minute at the expo, but save yourself the anxiety by having your perfect gel, socks and any potential variation of weather outfit available.
Folks who have done the Disney World Marathon will tell you they always pack thinking it’s a Florida race and have been surprised at the start more than once with a 30 degree day…no fun without any warmer clothes. Be prepared for all scenarios to keep calm, chafe free and enjoy the day.
Get an easy printable race day checklist to be on top of EVERYTHING you need and how to plan for family meet ups and other things we often forget.
5. Wear Throw-away Clothes
Swing by Salvation Army the week of the race. The idea of throw-away clothes sounded preposterous to me, but this makes the start line experience exceedingly more enjoyable. You may be outside in cool or wet temperatures for hours before the race begins in the pre-dawn chill.
Beyond comfort, keeping your body warm preserves much needed energy.
If it’s not a cold race, you might only need some knit gloves you can toss and trust me they are worth the $1 to buy! Tuck them in your shorts if you warm up, just in case you turn back in to the wind later in the race (A tip from Ryan Hall).
6. Follow Music Rules (or Don’t)
A lot of the courses say no music, so like a rule following girl I would show up to find tons of people with headphones.
While the rule is in place for a good reason (runner safety), if it’s not a trail race and you can run with 1 ear bud it’s very rare that race officials will enforce this rule. That being said, do it at your own peril.
7. Learn How to Drink on the Run
First, remember you don’t have to drink at every aid station or drink the entire cup provided.
Dump some out if it seems too full, then pinch the cup, so the side creates a point and sip. Guzzling rarely leads to a happy stomach.
Once you’re done, look around and try to toss it all the way off to the side, so you don’t create a slick mess underfoot for runners behind you.Know someone gearing up for their first #halfmarathon - share these tips! Click To Tweet
8. Wear Fitted Running Shoes
Get fitted for good running shoes.
The one’s you bought from the department store may have worked fine in the past, but they aren’t suited for the increased mileage you’ll be covering.
Don’t: Let the shoe store talk you in to a shoe that isn’t comfortable just because of a 30 second treadmill analysis of your gait.
Learn how to find the right running shoe>>
9. Check Your Ego
Check it at the door because you’ll find yourself getting passed by people older, fitter, taller, shorter, thinner, heavier, with strollers and none of it matters. What matters is you showed up and crossing that finish line is automatic PR.
If it’s not the time you want, the great news is your next race will be another PR!
10. Beat That Quitting Feeling
Get real about the fact that during training and the race you will feel like quitting. Assuming you haven’t slacked on your training and could be on the way to injury by plowing ahead, don’t worry when this moment strikes.
While you should be fired up for your first half marathon, a bit of realism (not fear) makes this moment something you can move through.
Get focused on all of the reasons why you want to cross that finish line and how it will feel to say “I freaking ran 13.1 miles”. Knowing that you aren’t the only one having this thought is also extremely comforting, so don’t be afraid to look at a fellow runner and say “we got this”.
They might need the pep talk too.
Learn some tips to overcome the negative thoughts while running.
11. Have a Spectator Plan
Plan ahead to know what your fans will be wearing and where they hope to be.
It’s often easier for you to spot them than the other way around. I definitely missed friends at those first races because I thought they would certainly see ME.
Share these race sign ideas to help them out >>
12. Balance Your Weight
Recognize that distance training requires appropriate fueling. Like many runners, I started running to lose weight. I assumed that marathon training would be a great way to speed up the process. It isn’t; marathon training leads to increased hunger and feelings of food entitlement.
Running 16 miles is pretty amazing, but it doesn’t mean you can overeat on pizza, cookies, bagels and other high carb foods every day of the week. High quality food keeps training hunger in check and provides energy for your runs.
Read more on running and weight loss >>
13. Prep for Chaffing and Blisters
On race day you may suddenly find yourself chaffing in places you didn’t even know existed.
Put Body Glide on every conceivable inch of the body, not just select spots like your thighs, but on race day get in between every toe, under every arm, and even around your waistband. It’s worth it.
Read more on all the tips to try and avoid them >>
14. Embrace the Rain
Watch the weather so you can plan your race day outfit and throw-away gear, but after that stop worrying about it. My first race was in the rain as have been many that followed and once you start running the rain can actually be a great way to keep from getting too warm…on a cold day it’s just another part of the race.
Plus once you cross that finish line, you feel just a little more bad ass and that’s half the fun too. However, you can also grab a great rain jacket to help as well. (Here my best running jackets for women in all elements.)
15. Run Solo
Practice running solo at least once a week during training. If you always run with someone and find yourself solo on race day it can immediately throw off your entire day. Know you can rely on yourself.
Read more on why you should run solo >>
16. Fight Off the “Never Will I Evers”
Realize you’ll likely find yourself swearing off a certain race or distance in the later part of the race and possibly even after the finish line of your first half marathon.
After the moment wears off you’ll find either a sincere joy at the results of months of hard work or a desire to redeem yourself for having not learned some of the lessons listed above!
17. Learn About Recovery
Spend time learning about recovery. Compression pants, ice baths, sports nutrition, all of these things ensure that during training you can continue putting in the miles and after the race you can resume training without too many days of walking down stairs sideways.
Whether it was the best or worst experience of your life there is often a desire to get right back to training, but your body won’t be ready right away. Those who do jump back in often find themselves injured within a few months. A few extra easy weeks are worth avoiding months of frustration.
Read the complete post race recovery guide >>
18. Stick to Your Plan
Finally, it’s important to know that every runner you meet will have an opinion about how you should train, what to wear, what to think; it’s great to listen to all of the advice, but after that you need to decide what fits your personality and then stick to a plan.
And if you really need a coach, then work with someone who understands you! I do offer online run coaching to a few people each year or checkout the brand new Sub Two Hour Half Marathon training plan to guide you through the process!
Don’t stop here, checkout our full beginner half marathon training guide.
Any questions you still have about race day?
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Photos: Most photos from taconicrr Flickr.