First half marathon tips: 10 things I wish I’d known before running my first half marathon

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My first half marathon was a physical and mental roller coaster. There are so many first half marathon tips out there, it’s hard to know what to believe.

After all, everyone’s approach to training and preparing for a half marathon is different. If someone had told me these first half marathon tips before completing my first race, I would have approached it a lot more differently!

Training for a half marathon, let alone running it, is a huge mental and physical battle. But the amazing sense of achievement you get when you cross the finish line, despite all the pain and tears, is well worth it!

Long distance running events like half marathons have grown in popularity in the last decade. According to a 2019 RunRepeat study, half marathon participation has increased from 17% to 30% of total participants since the beginning of the century.

Both elite and amateur runners take part in half marathon events, with over 17 million runners completing half marathons in 2015 in the USA alone.

In this blog I’d like to share my first half marathon tips with a view of supporting and inspiring any new runner to run their first half marathon.

first half marathon tips

First half marathon tips: 10 things I wish I’d known before completing my first half marathon

Slow down

This is probably one of the most important first half marathon tips.

Before I completed my first half marathon, I had only ever finished 5k and 10k races, so when it came to race day, I was excited to get started and push myself from the get go.

I saw fellow runners sprint from the start line, so a part of me wanted to keep up with them. How wrong I was!

By the time I had hit my third mile, my breath and pace were being impacted. I was pushing myself too far, when all I needed to do was slow down and run my own race.

Don’t think you’re a failure because you’re running a lot slower than everyone else. Only you can determine the right pace for you so you stay the distance.

Related: How to pace your run

Don’t compare yourself to others

I found it really hard not to compare myself to other runners during my first half marathon.

Every time someone overtook me, I felt I had to push myself that much further to catch up with them.

When in reality, they were probably seasoned runners with buckets of experience under their belt.

Looking back, it was very unrealistic of me to compare myself with them.

I had no idea of their training plan or their running experience, or even general fitness levels.

Comparing yourself to others will only serve to damage your confidence and pressure you to go faster, when you’re probably not ready to do so.

So just relax and focus on running your own race.

Related: How to believe in yourself: Running and self-confidence

first half marathon tips

Enjoy it and have fun

Yes, I said it, half marathons are supposed to be enjoyable and fun!

The tendency for a lot of runners is to build up all this pressure on race day.

They’ve trained for months, they’ve bought all the right gear, and they have a time in mind.

Yes, this is all important but it’s not supposed to be miserable.

Take a second to look around – at the spectators, race volunteers, fellow runners (some in wacky costumes), and family and enjoy it!

Related: 6 tips to keep running fun

Stay hydrated

It’s good to stay hydrated during the lead up to the race.

You’re going to keep burning a lot of calories and sweat on race day, so it’s equally important to stay hydrated after the race too.

But, be warned, too much water on race day could lead to unscheduled toilet stops along the route – so plan your water consumption carefully.

Related: 7 essential tips for running in the heat and humidity

Buy a good pair of running shoes

This is a very important step as a pair of trainers can make or break your run.

If you wear a pair that are not suitable for your feet, this could lead to blistered feet, or even worse, an injury.

My advice is to seek professional help from a specialist running shop when choosing a pair of trainers for your half marathon.

They’ll be able to help you pick a trainer based on your gait and the type of race you’re about to run.

The trainers you wear when you go to the gym, for example, will probably not be suitable on race day.

Related: How to choose the best running shoes for beginners

first half marathon tips

Wear the right gear

Your running gear will change depending on the environment you’re running in. If it’s going to be a hot race, think shorts and a short-sleeved/no sleeve running top.

If it’s going to be a cold race, during the winter months, think a good base layer and thick running tights.

Of course, this all depends on how comfortable certain clothes make you feel. If you hate running in shorts, don’t wear them.

The last thing you want on race day is uncomfortable clothing ruining your race, so choose tried and tested pieces of clothing that you know will be comfortable.

Related: Running in the cold: How to dress for winter running

Try running solo

If you’re used to running in a group, I’d recommend you do at least one or two long runs by yourself before race day.

This will force you to rely on yourself for motivation and will make you a stronger runner.

Of course, with any solo run, keep safe and always tell someone where you’ll be going.

Be mentally prepared

Your training plan focuses on getting you physically ready for the race. Then on race day, half way through, you may have the urge to quit. Your mind is stuck between quitting and pushing on.

For many new runners, they see this as a sign of failure, or that they’re just not good enough. In reality, all runners experience these feelings, even the experienced ones! These feelings are completely natural.

A dose of realism (not fear) will make this moment all the more bearable. Treat the race as a normal, long Sunday run.

Another way to make this process easier is to set a reward for yourself ahead of time for completing the race and focus on this during the tough parts of the race.

Whether it be a slap-up meal, a long hot shower, or a big bar of chocolate – these can be incredible ways to spur you on.

Related: Self-confidence and athletic performance: The one tip that professional athletes swear by

first half marathon tips

Fuel your body

Your body is about to burn through a lot of energy, so it’s important you fuel it in the right way.

Think of your body as a car. Before a long journey, what do you do? You fill it up with the right kind of petrol, you check the engine, and you check its oil levels.

Your body works in much the same way – it’s an engine that powers your race, so treat it with the same attention and kindness.

When training for a half marathon, you need to eat even more than you normally would to keep your energy levels high.

After a long run, your body is going to be hungry, so give it what it needs.

This doesn’t give you a golden ticket to pizzas, burgers, crisps, fizzy drinks and sweets – far from it.

Nutrition and high quality foods are equally important, if not more important, for runners.

Related: What to eat before a run

Make time for recovery

You’ll be pushing your body to the limits during your race, so factor in plenty of recovery time to help your body repair itself.

If you’re unsure about what recovery looks like, I’d advise you spend time learning more about it. Ice baths, foam rollers and sports massages can all form part of this recovery time.

If I’d known about foam rollers after my first race, I would’ve avoided many awkward, sideways, crab-like walks down stair cases.

You’ll feel a sense of elation after your race, but don’t jump straight back into long Sunday runs.

Your body won’t be ready and you’ll heighten the risk of injury.

Is there anything you wish you’d known before completing your first race? Comment below!

Related: 6 essential ways to recover after a half marathon

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Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Amy Haas

    Absolutely LOVE your blog and your content! I’m trying to run a half marathon in every state (I’ve got 29/50 under my belt) and these are spot on! Love it! Can’t wait to continue following your journey! I’d love to connect more if you ever have some time! My name is Amy Haas and my instagram is Raceacrossthestates

    My blog is Raceacrossthestates.com

    1. Run With Caroline

      Hi Amy! Thanks for your lovely comments. Wow that sounds amazing! Do let me know if I can provide any further support at all. I’ll definitely check out your blog and Insta. Take care! x

  2. Jack

    Hi, Im a beginners runner. I was running 10k every other day before my friend randomly gave me her place in the royal half marathon in April 2021. Do you have any tips about how to increase mileage on long runs without getting injured and finding a training plan which doesn’t involve hills( i don’t live near any) and is relatively easy to follow? I get a bit daunted by training plans which talk about intervals and thresholds etc.

  3. Jack

    Hi, im a beginners runner who has done 5ks and 10ks only. My friend recently gave me her place in the royal halfs half marathon. Ive never done long runs before as all my runs have generally been the same distance. Do you have any tips about how to increase mileage on a long run without getting injured? Also what do you in particular like to eat during a race/and how often do you like to eat?

    1. Hi Jack. Congrats on the half marathon place! In terms of increasing mileage, I recommend you increase this gradually each week on your long run (e.g. an additional mile each week) and try and avoid large jumps in mileage. Many half marathon training plans will increase the mileage gradually over a period of 10, 12, 14 or 16 weeks – depending on which training plan you pick. You will also be doing easy runs during the week. I’d also suggest incorporating some sort of strength training into your training plan if you’re not already doing this. I have a few strength training posts on my blog so feel free to check those out. In terms of eating, I don’t actually eat during races normally. Everyone is different but I find it hard to digest any type of food on a run. I’ve heard that gels are good so feel free to look into these. Basically you need something that’s going to give you an energy/glucose boost during your run to replace lost energy stores.

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