12 Half Marathon Tips To Get You Race Ready!

What to keep in mind when training for your next, or first, half marathon.

Considering signing up for a half marathon? 

Regardless of whether it’s your first half marathon or your 50th, preparing for that 13.1 mile run is always challenging. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! 

In this guide, I’ll share some of my top half marathon tips and tricks to help you train smarter, stay motivated, and be prepared for race day. 

Lace up your running shoes, and let’s dive in!

12 Essential Half Marathon Tips

12 Half Marathon Tips To Get You Race Ready! 1

 Pre-Race Day Half Marathon Training Tips

#1: Follow A Training Program

The most important thing when training for a half marathon race, or any distance for that matter, is to have a good, expert coach-constructed training plan that is appropriate for you and your fitness level.

A lot of people tend to think they can train on their own and make it up as they go along. However, if you want to run a successful race, feel strong, and enjoy it, I highly recommend you choose a training plan and stick to it.

Your training plan should include your speedwork training sessions, easy runs, recovery runs, long runs, cross-training, strength training days, and rest days.

If you are in the market for half-marathon training plans, here are our Marathon Handbook half-marathon training plans for you to peruse: Free Half-Marathon Training Plans For All Abilities.

If you have the means, working alongside a running coach can also greatly boost your training and race success whether your goal is completing your first race, or chasing a personal record.

#2: Construct A Pacing Strategy

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 it usually leads to disasters like hitting the wall and injuries. 

It’s quite easy to get swept up in the race day atmosphere and excitement (even experienced runners do it!) and start the race running at a faster pace than you’ve been practicing in your training runs.

Be smart. Determine your race pace weeks before the actual event, practice it in your longer runs, and stick to it on race day.

#3: Taper

Tapering is the act of winding down your training as you approach your race. 

This means that your body will be rested and recovered on the day of the event. For half marathons, you want your training to peak one or two weeks before the race and gradually scale back as you approach it.

You want to run a tune-up race a few weeks before your race, then start the taper process.

By this stage in the game, it’s too late to do anything in training that will improve your performance. All you can potentially do is accidentally overtrain and impede your performance on race day. 

During your half-marathon taper, you should still run; just cut back on the volume. You’ll still want to include a bit of intensity in your workouts early in the week, but you will have a lower total weekly mileage to make sure you don’t overdo it.

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 #3: Do A Dress Rehearsal

When I say a ‘dress rehearsal,’ I mean getting dressed up in all the gear you plan to use on race day and going for a run, mimicking your race conditions as closely as possible.

This means using the same gels or other carbohydrate-rich fuel, drinking the same amounts of fluids and electrolytes, running in the same climate, wearing the same shoes and socks, and using the same lubricant—the works!

This way, any unexpected glitches, such as chafing or blisters, can be flagged and dealt with before you get to race day.

You can do several of these throughout your training schedule on your long training runs, especially on your longest run or peak week-long run.

#4: Know Thy Course

You should have a good idea of what your course looks like before you run it. 

If possible, drive the course (if it’s on the roads). Or if it’s on trails, put your shoes on and run sections of it.  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 about events from previous years to know what to expect. You want to look out for any hills, features such as rivers, sections with uneven footing for trail races, etc.  

Also, make sure you’re familiar with the local weather and climate. Knowing and visualizing your course can help keep you calm and focused come race day.

half marathon 4


#5: Know Where The Aid Stations Are

Find out where the support stations will be along the course and what they will provide.

Will they supply water, sports drinks, salts, and medical support? Knowing what will be available helps you plan whether or not you need to carry your gels or other carb source, or if you will be able to use what is available at the aid stations.

As a side note, it’s worth knowing the location of any toilets, too!

#6: Have A Fueling 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 of my fueling strategy for a half marathon is to take two gels, one at 7km and one at 14km, to fuel the second half of your race. 

However, fueling is extremely individual as some of us react differently to certain products. Therefore, it’s essential to try this strategy before your race. 

For example, I really struggle to eat anything more than a few nuts and gels. 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 our 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 by taking a sweat test and plan for the same on your race.

Also, practice your carb loading routine for your peak week long run, so you’ll know exactly what to eat the night before and morning of your race.

Related: How Frequently Should You Take Energy Gels During Races?


#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 possible.

Map out your race weekend, too.

  • When and where is packet pick up?
  • How will you get to the start line?
  • How will you get back at the end of the race?
  • Do you need to sign up for a spot on the bus?

Find out if the race organizers arrange drop bags or lockers. This way, you can plan with them and store your things during the race for pick-up afterward at the finish line.

#8: Prepare Everything The Night Before

For all of my races, I always organize my clothing and essentials the night before. It works incredibly well to give me peace of mind before I go to sleep.

You should prepare and lay out absolutely everything you will need the following day.

I have my shoes, socks, shorts, and shirt arranged, and I even fix the race bib onto my shirt the night before.  

Additionally, I have my gels, GPS watch, and anything else next to my clothes, so in the morning I literally don’t have to think about anything. Then, I simply put on my clothes, carry everything else, and leave for the race.

This approach means you minimize the number of things you have to think about on race day, which helps you rest better and mentally prepare for the race ahead.

#9: Sleep Well

Getting a good night’s sleep before a half marathon, or full marathon, or any race is obviously going to improve your performance. 

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 the previous evening, too. 

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Race Day

 #10: Get To The Start Line Early

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 lines at the entrance, race registration, the toilets, and bag drop.

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 PR 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!

There you have my top tips whether you are a first time half marathon runner, or a regular. Good luck at your race!

Read our next guide for a complete checklist of items you will need when traveling to a half marathon or marathon:

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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