21 Things You Need To Know Before Your First Half Marathon

Signing up for your first half marathon is a big deal.

13.1 miles of grit, sweat and mental toughness.

While it may be challenging at times the training and race itself is worth the glory of crossing that finish line.

Before you lace up for that first training run, here are 21 things you should know.

half marathon medal

1. You Don’t Need To Run 13.1 miles Before The Race

In fact, you shouldn’t run 13.1 miles before race day.

Your training plan will prepare you for the half marathon though you shouldn’t hit the full mileage in order to avoid injury and fatigue.

If you’re able to run 10 to 11 miles at once, then the adrenaline will carry you through those last few miles.

2. You CAN Do This

Repeat this to yourself when you start to doubt. You most certainly can run 13.1 miles! Regardless of if you’ve never run a mile in your life or have a routine 5-mile loop, your body will train itself up for the full race. It takes some sweat and hard work, but you’ll get there.

3. You Need Proper Running Shoes . . .

Without the proper running shoes for your first half marathon, you are more prone to injury and discomfort during and after your run. Invest in a good pair of shoes that fit your feet and form.

Most running stores have associates who are well-versed in different types of shoes and can help you make an educated decision. Check out our guide to Choosing Running Shoes if in doubt!

4. . . . But The Rest Is Optional

One of the best parts about running is that all you need is a solid pair of shoes. A GPS watch, sweat-wicking clothing and a water bottle belt are nice, but they are not must-haves when training for a half marathon. Invest in what you are comfortable with as a foundation and go from there.

5. Running Groups Can Be A Lifesaver

Running is more fun together. It’s a simple truth that can help you get through the long, dull mileage of training for a half marathon. Head to your local running store to see if they have a group you can join. Staying fit and making friends is a combination that can’t be beaten.

6. A First Half Marathon Training Plan Is Essential

For the best possible results leading up to and during the half marathon, you need a training plan. This will take the guesswork out of it for you and help you stay on track.

The good news is that we’ve got you covered – check out our library of Half Marathon Training Plans; there’s plans for all abilities.

7. Seek Out A Tried And True Running Route

As you are planning to log many miles, it is nice to have a running route you feel safe on and enjoy. You may not use it for every run, but at least you know how to tick off a certain number of miles on a proven path.

8. Strength Training Will Benefit Your Running

Resistance training will increase your leg strength and enhance your endurance while training for a half marathon. According to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, three days of resistance training a week will benefit your running. This could be done with free weights, machines or through a fitness class.

9. Fueling Is A Trial-And-Error Process

During your race, you’ll need to fuel your body with additional carbs either through sports drinks or gels. Don’t wait until race day to try this out for the first time. Similar to building up your leg muscles, you also need to practice and test out your stomach muscles to see what works.

Already an experienced runner? Check out my quick 6 week half marathon training plan.

10. Plan Your Hydration Stops

You will need to drink water while out for your long runs. If you can, plan your route near water fountains that you can stop at along the way. If that’s not possible, you can stash a water bottle somewhere safe that you can grab along your route.

first half marathon 2

11. There Is No Shame In Walking

Don’t stress if you need to alternate between walking and running.

In fact, many runners do this and see positive results. Whether you use a walk/run approach to build fitness or while going through water stations, know that it is okay – especially for your first half marathon.

12. Training Doesn’t Have To Take Over Your Life

Some people fear that signing up for a half marathon will result in canceled social plans and no life other than running. But that doesn’t have to be the case!

You may need to strategically plan your training runs around social plans or work events, but it’s possible to do so without interrupting your regular routine. Just don’t forget to factor in a day of rest!

(related post: How To Find Time For Run Training).

13. Long Runs Can Get Boring

Unfortunately running 8 miles solo isn’t always the most exciting venture. You can pass the time by running with a buddy and chatting, listening to podcasts, music or audiobooks.

It’s also a great time to clear your headspace.

14. Be Prepared To Train In All Elements

Most climates won’t give you the same weather every day. Going into half marathon training know that you may encounter rain, wind or humidity.

However, if you tell yourself you’re going to run regardless then you’re more likely to lace up.

15. Don’t Eat Anything New On Race Day

On the morning of the race don’t try out a new oatmeal recipe or suddenly add milk to your coffee.

You never know what might upset your stomach, so it’s best to stick to a routine that has worked in the past. Keep it simple and enough to fuel you, but not heavy.

16. Your Half Marathon Should Be Fun

One of the best aspects of running is the actual race day! There are spectators lined up cheering for you, medals and treats at the end and the reward of a goal achieved.

Once you’ve made it to the start line it’s time to enjoy the ride.

17. Have A Race Day Plan

Leading up to the day of the half marathon make a plan you can follow. Figure out where you’ll park, if you’ll use gear check, how many gels you need to bring and what you’ll wear.

If you have this decided beforehand then you won’t waste energy trying to figure it out a few hours before your first half marathon.

18. Spectators Make The Race More Fun!

Invite your friends and family! There is nothing better than seeing loved ones screaming for you as you accomplish a goal.

Especially at mile 11 or 12 when you’re hurting. It’s a pick me up you’ll want and need.

19. Prepare for Blisters, Black Toenails, and Chafing

One of the ugly parts of running is the toll it can take on your body.

While training for a half marathon you’ll be logging many miles so prepare yourself for some blisters, toenails that will bruise and fall off and worst of all, chafing.

These are simply battle scars to show the hard work you’ve put into training.

20. You Have To Wear Your Medal To Brunch

It may feel corny or cheesy, but if you just ran your first half marathon then you deserve to proudly wear your medal during brunch. It’s an unwritten rule of the sport.

half marathon happy

21. You’ll Probably Want To Sign Up For Another (Once You’ve Recovered)

Running is addictive!

There’s no denying that after you cross that finish line of your first half marathon you’ll likely get the bug to do it all over again.

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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