Regardless of whether it’s your first or your 50th race, it never hurts to run through the checklist below and make sure you’ve considered all the points.
Note that I’ve broken the bullets into two sections – first is everything you do in the weeks building up to your run, then second is everything you need to remember come race day.
Half Marathon Preparation – 12 essential tips
Pre-Race Day – Planning
1. Pace Is King
In a distance running event, having a pace strategy is key to a successful race. Just turning up and ‘going for it’ can occasionally work, but more often than not leads to disasters like hitting the wall and injuries. Be smart, and determine your race day pace weeks before your actual run – then stick to it.
2. A TRAINING PLAN IS ESSENTIAL
A good training plan is essential to half marathon success – it gives your training structure and allows you to train in a structured approach. Visit our Half Marathon Training Plan page to check out our range of free downloadable training plans.
2. The Taper
Tapering is the act of winding down your training as you approach your run. This means that you body will be rested and recovered come the day of the event. For half marathons, you basically want your training to peak one or two weeks before the race, then from there you gradually scale things back.
By this stage, it’s too late to do anything in training that will improve your performance – all you can potentially do is accidentally over-train and impede your performance on race day. During your taper, you should still run, just cut back on the mileage and the pace. It’s also a good time to do some low-intensity cross-training, like swimming and yoga. See our training plans for suggested tapering strategies.
3. Do A Dress Rehearsal
When I say a ‘dress rehearsal’, I mean get dressed up in all the gear you plan to use on race day and go for a run, mimicking your race conditions as closely as possible. This means using the same gels, drinking the same amounts of water, running in the same climate – as well as wearing the same shoes, socks, using the same lubricant- the works! This way, any unexpected glitches can be flagged and dealt with. I normally do my dress rehearsal around a month before race day, as one of my long weekend runs.
4. Know Thy Course
You should have a good idea of what your course looks like before you run it. If possible, go out and drive the course (if it’s on roads). Or if it’s on trails, put your shoes on and run sections of it. And if you don’t live near your course, do your research and check out the race’s website and any forums you can find. Google the race name plus ‘Race Report’ to try and find blogs of previous years’ events to know what to expect. You want to look out for any hills, features such as rivers or sections with uneven footing, etc. Also make sure you’re familiar with the local weather and climate. Knowing and being able to visualize your course can help keep you calm and focused come race day.
5. Know Thy Support Stations
Try and find out where the support stations are going to be along the course – if any are going to be there at all! It’s good to find out what will be available there too. Will they supply water, salts, energy drinks, medical support? Knowing what is going to be available helps you plan. As a side note – it’s worth knowing the location of any toilets too!
6. Have A Fuelling And Hydration Strategy
Don’t just turn up at the start line with a pocket full of gels and an empty stomach.
Have a strategy in place for fuelling that you have tested out already.
An example fuelling strategy for a half marathon would be to take two gels – at 7km and 14km, in order to fuel the second half of your race. However, it’s essential to actually trial this strategy before your race. Everybody is different, and some people react differently to foods and gels while running. I really struggle to eat anything more than a few nuts and gels, for example. But luckily for me, I can stomach three or four gels in quick succession with no issues – many people can’t process gels. So the key is to practice with whatever you plan to eat, well before the race.
The same goes for hydration. The latest medical advice is that during races, we should only drink enough to quench thirst – in other words, don’t chug water if your body doesn’t feel like taking it. Check how much water you need during training and plan for the same on your race.
7. Plan Your Logistics
If you’re running a city race, hotels near the start/finish line can book up quickly, so look into those as soon as you can.
Map out your race day too – how are you going to get to the start line, and get home at the end of the race?
Find out if the race organisers arrange drop-bags or lockers. This way, you can plan with them and store your things during the race for pick-up afterwards.
8. Prepare Everything The Night Before
This is simple but works incredibly well and will give you great piece of mind before you go to sleep on the night before your race.
You should prepare and lay out absolutely everything you will need the following day.
I have my shoes, socks, shorts and shirt arranged – I even fix the race bib onto my shirt the night before. Additionally I have my gels, GPS watch and anything else sat next to my clothes, so in the morning I literally don’t have to think about anything. Then I simply put on my clothes and carry everything else, and leave for the race.
This approach means you minimize the amount of things you have to think about on race day – which helps you rest better and be mentally prepared for the race ahead.
9. Sleep Well
Getting a good night’s sleep before a half marathon is obviously going to improve your performance on race day. But did you know that the most important sleep is actually the one two nights before race day? It’s not enough just to have a good rest prior to your race – for your body to be fully rested and primed, you need to have had a good sleep in the previous evening, too.
10. Get To The Start Line In Plenty Time
This sounds like a no-brainer, but give yourself plenty of time to get to the start of the race. If it’s a big race, expect queues at the entrance, race registration, the toilets, bag drop, etc. Also be aware that in a big race, it’s easy to get held up by massive crowds at the start line if you join near the back. I’ve had a few friends with PB attempts ruined because they were stuck in a slow-moving crowd. Don’t go right to the front, but get up to a section that will be fairly fast-moving if you can. It’s better to be surrounded by slightly-faster runners than slightly-slower runners.
11. Go To The Toilet
Every single one of us gets pre-race jitters, even if you went half an hour previous. Factor in time to visit the toilet just before going to the start line, trust us – you’ll use it!
12. Don’t Forget To Start Your GPS
Lastly, as you cross the timing mat at the start of the race, don’t forget to start your GPS tracker. It is so easy to get swept up in the excitement that you completely forget to start your watch!