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: 10 things I wish I’d known before completing my first half marathon
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!