Essential tips for surviving your first half marathon

by Fara Rosenzweig

Running a half marathon requires a great deal of discipline, mental toughness, courage and a little bit of crazy.

To some, 13 miles is daunting. To others, it’s not that big of a deal. The honest truth, however, is that the half distance is long enough to challenge your legs without the training taking over your entire life. This is probably the number-one reason why “halfs” are so popular in the United States.

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In fact, in 2015, close to 2 million Americans participated in a half marathon, according to Running USA.

You really do need to prep for this. Photo: David Schap/Unsplash

Whether you’re beginning your training program or are a few days away from the starting gun, know that you might encounter some sort of mishap on the course. Here are a few tips to help you survive your first half marathon.

Give yourself time

With road closures, congested parking lots and crowds of runners and spectators, showing up 30 minutes before a race is cutting it close.

It’s best to give yourself plenty of time; arrive about 60 to 90 minutes before start time to do your pre-race rituals: check gear, go to the bathroom, find your corral, warm up and ease any race-day jitters.

Warm up with a light jog

You may be thinking, “I’m about to run 13.1 miles; why do I need to run more?”

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A light jog — about half a mile or so — will wake up your legs and get your blood moving. Make sure it’s an easy jog — nothing strenuous. By the time you hit the start line, you’ll be ready to run at your race pace without exerting too much energy.

Beware of the first-mile cluster

Yeah, it can be tight. Photo: Martins Zemlickis/Unsplash
You’ll feel like you’re in a herd of cattle. The first mile is always a cluster of people, even when races space out the corrals.

Thousands of people take off around the same time, so instead of wasting energy weaving in and out of crowds, run on the outside of the crowd, a little slower than your race pace. Once the crowds thin (usually around mile two), you can pick up your pace and get into a good running groove.

Do not wear new shoes

It’s a common rookie mistake: At the pre-race expo, first-time racers purchase a new pair of running shoes because they’re getting a smoking deal.

Those shiny new shoes look so tempting to put on come go time. However, tossing your tried-and-trues on race day is welcoming a major disaster.

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Each shoe is different. The ones you’ve trained in have gone through miles supporting your body. You know they are comfortable and trustworthy. Wear the old shoes. They will carry you to the finish line without blisters or other injuries.

Don’t stop at every water station

Remember, you need to sip water only when you’re thirsty. Many races have water stations every mile (or every other mile). Stop only if you absolutely need to drink.

If you trained with low amounts of water, then you can finish the race the same way. Make sure to drink plenty the day before to hydrate your body for race day.

Save your energy

There are a few tricks to save energy and maintain a good run rhythm. “The last 5 miles is when the real race begins, so be sure to conserve as much energy as you can in the first 8 miles,” suggests Ryan Hall, former professional long-distance runner and Fitbit ambassador.

Here are some suggestions:


Mind your pace

Remember: You’ve already run this race — just not with other people. Photo: Kyle Kranz/Unsplash
Adrenaline will make you feel like you can start faster than usual, but run how you trained. This will help you save energy and make it to the finish line strong.

In addition, running your pace will also help you avoid injury.

Don’t eat anything new

Before, during or after your race, don’t eat anything new — unless you want to experience runner’s trots. To keep stomach pains away, stick to what you know is safe for your stomach.

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Don’t worry about people passing you

And don’t forget to smile. Photo: Fara Rosenzweig
Ask yourself this question: Are you running this race to beat the world record? Chances are, you’re not.

Whether you’re competitive or not, you’re running the half for yourself. So don’t worry if people pass you. Set your goal, be it a time or simply to finish the race, and focus on what you came to achieve.

Run on the right side

When driving, slower cars are supposed to stay on the right and use the left lane to pass. It’s driving etiquette. It’s the same with running during an event.

If you’re feeling strong and want to pass a runner, kindly say “left” as you pass them. This gives the runner in front of you a heads up that you’re going to pass, without startling them.

Expect chafing and blisters

It happens to the best of us, in not-so-happy places, usually in the middle of the race. It will definitely test your pain tolerance and mental game.

Be prepared. If you happen to get blisters on your feet, use petroleum jelly or wrap them with bandages. If you chafe under your arms, on your inner thighs, on your nipples or anywhere else, use baby powder to help prevent discomfort.

Tune out the agony

Running with friends can help you over the pain hump. Photo: Dave Meier/Pexels
If you haven’t been tested yet, around mile nine or 10 your body will probably start to ache. In fact, many runners say this is when they hit the wall.

This when you’ve got to use your mental game and push through the agony. Tell yourself most of the race is behind you and you’ve got a few more miles ’til the end. Use the spectator energy or other runners on course to help you get past the pain and keep going strong.

Visualize the finish line

Around mile 11.5 or 12, believe in yourself that you can do it. You’re almost there, so don’t give up.

Finish strong

You’ve been working for this day. Kick it up a notch during your last quarter mile. Pick up your pace to finish strong.

Don’t forget to throw your hands in the air as you cross; this seems to be the normal finish-line pose.

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