If you’ve decided to run your first half marathon, you are certainly in for a wild ride. Completing your first half marathon is an experience that will never be forgotten, and definitely worth all of the hard work during training.
But no matter how well you train, you’ll likely encounter a few surprises on race day. The energy, atmosphere and excitement of race day is something that often takes new runners by surprise.
Not to mention the months of training spent preparing for the half marathon.
Even after completing more than 20 half marathons, I am still learning new things at each race. However, there a few things I’ve learned along the way that certainly took me by surprise during my first half marathon.
Knowing these 8 things before my first half marathon would have really helped set me at ease and prepare me for the most success possible.
8 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Half Marathon
Start training months beforehand.
Training for a half marathon is no joke – and definitely requires a bit of time and effort. When signing up for your first half marathon, make sure you have plenty of time to train.
No matter how motivated or excited you may feel about the half marathon race happening next month, it will be nearly impossible to prepare for an event so close.
Most half marathon training plans are at least 8 weeks in length, with beginner training plans ranging anywhere from 12 – 20 weeks. These lengthy training plans provide plenty of time for your body to get stronger, to gradually increase your mileage, and do everything while remaining healthy and injury free.
When in doubt, more time is always better. Provide yourself with plenty of time to train for your first half marathon. Spend the first few weeks building a really solid running base, and focus on increasing long run distance gradually over time.
Prioritize distance – not speed.
It’s tempting to really give it your all during training – and especially on race day. As your body adjusts to more mileage, it may feel like you can pick up the pace as well.
But increasing both distance and speed at the same time is a recipe for injuries, overtraining and burnout. When training for your first half marathon, the priority should always be distance. This race involves conquering a distance which you have never run before – a distance which certainly is no walk in the park.
Challenge yourself each week with increased mileage, and forget about your pace while doing so. As your body strengthens and time passes, your splits will likely naturally decrease as a result.
Forget the intense workouts and speed training sessions for your first marathon, and instead run to have fun and complete the distance without getting hurt.
Bring throw-away clothes.
Many half marathon races occur during the spring and fall, when the weather is especially fickle. Race mornings often mean chilly temperatures that will drastically rise by the time you cross the finish line.
Standing in the starting corrals can be a frigid experience if you’ve dressed according to your body temperature on the run.
Rather than freezing as you await the start, buy a few throwaway clothes to wear until it’s time to start. Visit a secondhand store to find some sweatshirts and sweatpants that you won’t mind discarding before you get going.
These clothes will keep you warm while you wait and won’t be hard to part with when it’s time to line up. Many races collect all of the discarded clothing at the end and donate them to various shelters and secondhand stores anyways, so you can feel confident knowing your warm clothes are going to a good place.
Don’t start out too fast.
The energy and excitement on race day is often a welcomed surprise for most first time half marathoners – especially as you line up in the corrals to get ready to start.
However, while this energy is certainly motivating, it often causes runners to start out way faster than they have during training.
Try to avoid getting caught up in the excitement at the beginning of the half marathon and hold yourself back. Don’t pick up the pace just because everyone around you seems to be flying by. Control your pace and stay with a steady, easy pace as you begin.
Once you’ve completed at least the first half of the race, you’ll be able to adjust your pace and speed up if you’re still feeling really great.
Make sure to line up well behind your pace group in the starting corrals to avoid starting up too far in the corral by other runners who plan to run much faster. It can feel awfully intimidating to start a race with everyone running past you in a hurry!
Practice fueling during training.
Most first time half marathoners are aware of the fact that they will need to drink water on the course and take in some fuel while running. However, many first timers fail to really practice doing so during training.
Your long training runs are the perfect time to practice eating and drinking on the run. Try out a few different types of fuel and select one that doesn’t upset your stomach while you’re on the move.
Another great way to help boost your confidence on race day is to practice drinking on the run. If you plan to run with a water bottle, take it out for a few test runs during training. If you plan to utilize the water provided during the race, practice drinking from wide cups during training (it is surprisingly hard)!
It’s said that practice makes perfect, and running is certainly no exception. Taking the time to practice your race day fueling strategy will help things go smoothly when your nerves and excitement take over during the race.
Check your surroundings before you walk.
Many runners end up walking at some point during a half marathon, and there is certainly no shame in doing so. This long distance often requires a break at one point or another, whether you’re walking through aid stations or just slowing down to catch your breath.
When you do walk during a race, make sure to check your surroundings before suddenly slowing down. There is nothing more frustrating that running along and bumping into someone who was just running your same pace.
Check behind you and around you to make sure there is no one near you when you slow down to walk. If possible, slide over to the side to let others who are running pass you by.
This common race courtesy will be greatly appreciated (and hopefully reciprocated) by the other runners around you. Not to mention, it’s much more relaxing to walk when you’re not packed in and congested by those around you.
Wear your name on your shirt for cheers.
One of the most exciting parts of your first half marathon is feeling the crowd support and excitement from other runners.
A great way to boost your spirits and encourage the support is to wear your name on your shirt. If your name doesn’t appear on your bib, try adding it with iron on letters or writing it on a running shirt to wear for race day.
Spectators love to cheer for you, and there is hardly anything more motivating than running through a crowd of people cheering your name as you complete this amazing feat.
Create a plan with your spectators.
Speaking of spectators, you will likely have at least one support crew member tagging along with you as your head to your first half marathon. Make sure to check in with your spectators ahead of time to figure out where they will drop you off and where you’ll meet them at the end.
If your support crew is planning to watch the race, see what their plan is for spectating. Knowing ahead of time where to expect to see your people can help give you some much needed motivation along the course.
Prepare for the end of the race to feel really chaotic as you exit the finisher’s chute, and have a plan in place for a meeting spot with your supporters to avoid wandering aimlessly on tired legs.
Running your first half marathon is an amazing experience – certainly a life-changing one. Regardless of how well you have trained and prepared, there will inevitably be quite a few surprises that come along on race day.
These few half marathon tips will help you prepare for the unexpected and arrive to the start as prepared as possible. Enjoy the process, run for fun, and celebrate all of your accomplishments along the way!
More tips for your first half marathon:
- 13.1 Tips to Make Your Next Half Marathon Awesome
- How to Recover Quickly from a Half Marathon
- Race Day Packing Checklist: What to Bring to the Start