First Half Marathon Tips

first half marathon tips

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? 


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18 Comments on “First Half Marathon Tips”

  1. Ha, I made all these mistakes plus more…and still make some of them today. I won’t even describe how incredibly unprepared I was for my first half but I fell in love with running! Sounds like you’ve come a long way in the past 2 years!

  2. I know i am not properly trained as i injuries my knee on my long run and have not been able to run, time wise, too much since! But I have a lot of races this year and my thought is “just finish” for Sunday. Thanks for the insight!

    1. If you haven’t gotten in the miles you planned, then definitely START SLOW. Even if you did do all your miles, I recommend starting slow at your first half. I think if I had started my race slower, or took walk breaks from the beginning, I would have felt much better in those last few miles.

  3. Your first half sounds like mine! I was a slave to Hal’s plan, mainly due to fear, but I rolled in to the race by myself, not knowing a single person there, after telling my husband not to come. Barely knew what Gu was and certainly had never tried it, no water, no nothing. Now I know so many runners I probably couldn’t do this if I wanted to! It all worked out though! Ice cream after a run is a great idea regardless of the weather.

  4. My big mistake was running on the same shady path for all my long runs. My first half was full sun, no shade the entire time – my poor ginger skin did not know how to cope, even with sun block!

  5. I have a few things to add to this list!! 🙂

    1) Another important thing to note about hydration, is to be sure to plan days in advance (not just what to do on race day)… especially if the temperatures are expected to be hot. Everyone handles heat differently, but plenty of fluids the week of the race is just as important (if not more important) than proper fueling on race day.

    2) Don’t get too adventurous at the expo! Large races that have big expos the day before (half marathon or marathon) is not the time to be trying lots of new energy bars, Gu flavors, etc. Some people have stomachs of steel and this may not be a problem for them. Others (like me) need to take things like this into consideration!

    3) As part of your dress rehearsal, consider breakfast! When do you normally eat before a training run (if you do)? Try to line this up with race day. Don’t be afraid to bring you breakfast with you if you need to be at a race extra early. I brought my oatmeal with me in a cooler in the car down to Champain Urbana on the day of the Illinois Marathon. I knew I had a long drive and a lot of waiting before I started running. I didn’t want to be starving by the time I started.

    And congrats Maggie on how far you’ve come! I can’t wait to see you give your goal Half Marathon a try. You will knock it out of the park, I just know it!! 🙂

    1. Thanks! I knew you’d have some good tidbits to add 🙂 Regarding the hydration thing, BFF Ultra Vera got me in the habit of filling a giant jug with water the day before a race, and carrying it around everywhere, drinking from it all day.

        1. Haha yeah she is a wealth of knowledge. Between completing a couple of ultras and something like over 20 “regular” marathons, including quite a few Bostons.

  6. Gosh, reading this brings back memories! I’ve done many of these mistakes in the longer races. It’s great to have support of family and friends for the race. I usually just roll up to a race and run by myself most of the time- especially since moving to Chicagoland. Im happy with the blog world to have made some cool friends to hopefully meet up at some of the races this year too 🙂

    My main mistake is under training and over estimating my abilities. Hoping that will all change this year!

  7. I made every single one of these mistakes. The worst one was slacking off on my training toward the end. I still remember the day before the half, I was at the expo listening to Jeff Galloway talk and he was all, “How many of you haven’t run a 10-miler before today?” Then he started laughing when he saw the hands and said, “Good luck!” I’d only done, like, an eight-miler by that time, and I started panicking like whoa. Fortunately he then introduced the idea of run-walking, which immediately calmed me down.

    I also did not apply my BodyGlide adequately and ended up with chub rub that burned every time I showered, and I chose clothes for maximum cuteness not comfort. FAIL.

    It’s still better than when I first started running. I’d wear terry cloth shorts and too-small cross trainers and I could never figure out why I lost so many toenails. Der.

  8. Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way, and I’ve learned all these same lessons from falling flat on my face on race day. The worst is when you’ve picked a new outfit and wear it for the first time, especially during a marathon. I’ve had chaffing in places I’ve never thought possible 😉

  9. Lots of good advice!! I had my worst crash and burn going out too fast in a marathon, in Phoenix, in January, after training through an icy late-fall in Chicago. That speed you use up early in the race you will NEVER GET BACK. It’s gone, so save it.

    You can also over-hydrate the day before a race and wind up depleted of your electrolytes, did that too, same marathon. It’s the desert, so I need more water, right??? A little, yes. I overdid it. Pee should be lemonade-colored, not clear like water.

    Pre-race fueling is best done lunch the day before or an early dinner so you don’t wake up with a heavy belly, that’s bad news if you have an early race and slow processing.

    Race day simulation is super important as your races get longer too. Figure out your race day conditions as early as you can and practice practice practice those same conditions, in sun, in heat, on hills….you’ll be so much happier!

    I could go on for maybe an hour….. 😉

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