I did everything wrong at my first half marathon. OK, maybe not everything. But it’s been awhile since my first half marathon, and I’ve run many races since, and I’ve come pretty far from all the rookie mistakes I made. So here are all of my first half marathon tips for you.
Follow a half marathon training plan
I had the best intentions of following the Hal Higdon beginner half marathon plan. The race was the first weekend in May, and I started running “regularly” in early January – that should have been four months of consistent running leading up to raceday. Which is enough time … if you follow the plan! Instead, I skipped weekday runs at least once per week, and decided to build up my long runs to 12 miles (instead of 10) because I clearly knew what I was doing. Looking over my training log, I never ran 15 or more miles in one week during my training. I only ran 2-3 times per week. (Spoiler: that is not what Hal recommended. It is also not what Maggie recommends.)
Bounce back from a bad run
My 11-mile long run attempt went pretty horribly, and that totally discouraged me and pretty much derailed the last 3 weeks for my training. In the weeks leading up to the race, I ran 7 miles (total), 6 miles (total) and then didn’t run at all the week leading up to the race. Hint: that is NOT SMART.
Don’t try anything new on race day
The day before the race, I went out and bought myself some cute new shorts. Which I wore the next day at the race. Even though I did all my long runs in capris. Also, I didn’t know what Body Glide was. Can you see where this is going? The last few miles of the race were painful for multiple reasons. I was never so happy to put on a pair of pants once I finished and made my way to gear check.
Do a “dress rehearsal”
Not only did I not think through what I would wear, but I never really figured out a hydration or fueling strategy. I think I had heard of GU, but never thought to actually try it. Luckily sports drinks don’t bother me too much, so on race day, I just stuck to drinking water and whatever sports drink was on the course. But it wasn’t really working for me, as my hands got really swollen/puffy by the end of the race. It was freaky. I’m pretty sure I ran without my rings on, and I’m glad I did.
Find a running support system
I trained for the race alone. I didn’t have any running friends back then. My husband and I would occasionally run together. He was signed up for the race, but ended up not doing it (he trained less than I did). I didn’t think to ask him to come to the race anyway to cheer me on. I didn’t know anyone else running the race. Sometimes, in hindsight, I’m shocked I even made it to the start line. When I woke up on race morning (before sunrise, and it was raining), I considered skipping the race. But I told Facebook I was doing it, so I had to. Can’t admit to Facebook I didn’t do something I said I would.
Don’t start off too fast
Given all the other mistakes I made, of course I started out too fast. I started around a 10:45 pace. By mile 8.5, I was walking, and pretty sure I would walk the rest of the race (which I pretty much did). My overall pace was 12:54.
So what did I do right?
I followed through. I signed up for something, and even though it was hard, mentally and physically, I stuck with it and finished it.
I didn’t puke. I didn’t have “G.I. issues.” Always a plus.
After the race, I kept running. And racing. Sure, I had some “running breaks” along the way, but I’m still doing it.
My best tips for your first half marathon
Find a training plan (from a good source, Hal Higdon is very popular), and follow the plan! Every run! It’s OK to skip a run every now and then, but it is NOT a good idea to skip 1-2 runs each week.
If you have a bad run, bounce back. It’s just one bad run. Learn from your mistakes and make the next one badass.
Nothing new on race day! No new clothes, no new food, no new shoes, nothing new! Maybe a new playlist, if you run with music, but that’s it!
Do a dress rehearsal, where you eat what you plan to eat on race day (before and during the race), wear what you plan to wear, even wake up at the time you plan to wake up on race day, and start running at the time the race starts.
Find a support system. Check out local running clubs, or see if your local running store has a group run. Even if you don’t run with them all the time, it’s nice to connect with other runners once in awhile, and it’s nice to see familiar faces at races. More on why running friends are important.
Don’t get cocky and start out too fast. So many race reports start with “I felt so great during the first few miles, so I decided to hold onto that [slightly faster than I trained for] pace.” OF COURSE you felt good in the first few miles. The first few miles aren’t the issue. The last few are. Keep those miles in mind when you start.
Have fun! It’s supposed to be fun, remember?
What mistakes did you make during your first race, or first race of a certain distance? What advice do you have for anyone attempting their first half?