11 Things I Wish I Had Known Before My First Half Marathon

Posted in Running   |   By

Erin Barsness

January 06, 2020

Are you gearing up for your first half marathon? Moving from running casual distances to running that full 13.1 miles is an incredible high. You'll push your body to do things that you never thought you could do, and you'll make incredible memories along the way--not to mention gaining bragging rights that will stick with you for the rest of your life! 

Before I ran my first half marathon, I was convinced that I wasn't "that kind" of runner. Not so many years ago, I would have said that if you saw me running, you should probably look behind me for a bear! Before I knew it, however, I'd caught the running bug. Suddenly, I was out there, running my heart out--and I made it (and have the shiny finishers medal to prove it). If I had it to do over again, however, there are some things I would do very differently--and some things that I wish I had known earlier in the game so that I could get it right from the start. 

1. Learn to Pace Yourself

Running a half marathon is very different from running a 5k or even a 10k. You can't push yourself to your fastest pace at the very beginning of the race, or you'll quickly wear out and find yourself dropping down to a walk. While there's no shame in walking part of that half marathon, especially if that's what it takes to get you to the finish line, you'll discover that pacing yourself is a critical part of successfully running that half marathon. During training, drop your pace by a minute to a minute and a half per mile for the first several miles of your long runs. You may feel incredibly slow or as though you're fighting your body to maintain that pace. After all, you're out here to run! As you near that ten-mile mark, however, you'll become increasingly grateful that you paced yourself early in the race. You'll still have reserves to run those last few crucial miles--and in the long run, you may end up getting over the finish line faster.

2. Find the Training Schedule that Works for You

Anyone can run a half marathon--even people who have a crazy schedule or who get stuck at work unexpectedly. Have kids at home? They can put a damper on even the most dedicated runner's training plans. When you create your training schedule, find one that works for you. Ideally, you want to start training at least twelve weeks before your race. If you know that your work schedule is chaotic or you want to leave room for illness, start training 14 to 16 weeks before the big event. Then, choose a schedule you know you can keep. If you only have one day a week for your long runs, don't try to create a schedule that includes an extra long run per week unless you want to feel frustrated early on. Instead, fit your training around your regular schedule--but stay dedicated! You'll feel every long run you skipped when race day arrives. 

3. Listen to Your Body

When you first put together your training schedule, it looks amazing! You're going to take off on those long runs 1-2 days per week, with shorter runs scattered through the rest of the week. You've got strength training or cross-training thrown in there to help build your muscles and increase your times. The first week, you're looking great!

Then the second week starts, and you discover that you haven't recovered from the first week. Your times are getting longer. Your ability to run those long distances is getting shorter. And what on earth happened to your stride? 

Pay attention to your body as you embark on your training journey. Listen when it starts to tell you that it's hurting, or that it's tired. While part of training to run a half marathon is learning to ignore those "tired" cues and push past them, you don't want to push so hard that you get yourself hurt. Instead, listen to your body. Pay attention to what it's telling you. If you need to take an extra day off or you need to stop running and walk for a little while, do it--it'll keep you safer and allow you to keep training hard.

4. Cross Train

Runners run. It's what they do. If all you're doing is running, however, you may find it difficult to build the endurance you need to get across that half marathon finish line. Engage in quality cross training as part of your training routine. Take in that spin class at the gym. Do some weight lifting, especially with an eye toward core strength. Swim. Check out the elliptical, especially on your light cardio days. Many runners have found that cross training is more beneficial to their race times than just another day hitting the pavement. 

5. Plan for Hydration

At some races, stations along the way will pass out sports drinks. Others simply hand out water--and you may find that doesn't fill your needs when you're covering 13.1 miles. Experiment with various sports drinks to discover which one works best for you. If you know that your race will provide sports drinks for runners, take the time to test out the one they usually offer and make sure that it will fit your needs. The last thing you need is a sports drink that will upset your stomach halfway through your race. 

6. Invest in Good Shoes

If you have a running store near you, it is absolutely worth it to go and be fitted. If not, try out several different types of shoes to discover what really works for you--and what works long-term, for your long runs. Cheap shoes might work well enough to get you through an occasional 5K, but they're simply not adequate for your long runs. 

In addition to investing in good shoes in the first place, make sure you're replacing them often enough. Many experts recommend replacing your running shoes between 300 and 500 miles. Keep in mind, however, that your mileage will vary: some runners need to replace their shoes more frequently. If you start to notice a decrease in shock absorption or an increase in joint pain, try replacing your shoes to bring new life to your run. 

7. Prepare for the Adrenaline

No matter how many races you've run in the past, there's a shot of adrenaline that accompanies the pistol shot (or buzzer, or bell) at the start of your first half marathon. In a 5K, that adrenaline can carry you the distance and increase your time. In a half marathon, however, that adrenaline is likely to wear out before you get to the end of the race. When you go in prepared, however, you know that you need to pace yourself no matter how good you feel. For this first race, your goal might be merely finishing the race, with no time goals attached--and that may make it easier to balance the adrenaline and pace yourself at the start. 

8. Don't Be a Slave to the GPS

Your GPS is a great tool for telling you how far you've run and how much further you have to go. Unfortunately, it's probably not 100% accurate. On race day, keep an eye on the mile markers that are posted along the way. They'll give you a more accurate idea of how much race you have left--not to mention allowing you to keep a better eye on your time. 

9. Know Your Weak Spots

Many athletes, over time, develop chronic injuries or weaknesses. Do you have a knee that sometimes starts giving you trouble around mile 10? Tight hamstrings that burn when you reach the end of the race? For your half marathon, go in aware of those weaknesses. If you need a brace, a wrap, or kinetic tape to help support you, make sure that you wear it on race day. It's much better to have it and not need it than to reach the midpoint of the race and wish you'd brought those things along. 

10. Use That Body Glide

It's amazing what surprises may await you on race day. One of them? Chafing and blisters in unexpected places, especially if you're wearing unfamiliar clothing. Invest in body glide, and before the race, put it everywhere. If there's any chance of a surface rubbing, cover it with body glide. You'll appreciate it when you're closing in on the finish without uncomfortable chafing in places you never realized could rub. 

11. Encourage Other Runners (And Yourself)

There's a point in most long runs where you feel like giving up. Can't you just call a friend to come pick you up and take you to the finish line? Why are you doing this to yourself, anyway?

When you hit the trail, whether it's just a training run or it's the day of the race itself, remember your "why." Why did you decide to do this to begin with? What do you love about it? If nothing else, keep your eye on those bragging rights that are coming at the end. Not that many people can actually say they've successfully run a half marathon! 

While you're building yourself up, build up those other runners around you, whether you're running past someone or running beside them. Those little bits of encouragement could be just the push someone else needs to get over the hump and accomplish their goals. Even better, you may find that it's just the encouragement you need, too. 

If you're gearing up for your first half marathon and you have questions about what you need to make it a success, contact us. We'll work with you to help you reach your goals with just the right equipment to help prevent or treat injuries. 

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