Running A Half Marathon: 7 Expert Tips For Your 1st Half Marathon

Running a half marathon is an incredible feat and can be a little scary for first-timers.

More experienced runners may make it look easy as they toe the starting line with confidence, but there is a lot that goes into preparing for a half marathon and details to iron out before race day.

But don’t worry; we’ve got you covered with our expert advice on how to run a half marathon!

We have put together a list of the very best tips for running a half marathon so that you can enjoy your race day success!

A person running through a finish line tape.

7 Tips For Running A Half Marathon

#1: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Preparing for a half marathon by following an appropriate, well-designed training plan is going to form the foundation of having a successful race.

Although there are plenty of half marathon training plans and approaches to preparing for running a half marathon, we highly suggest checking out our free half marathon training plans.

Check out our free online half marathon training plans for runners of all different fitness and experience levels including:

  • Half marathon plans for beginners
  • Time-based plans for those looking to smash a PR
  • Time crunch tune-up plans for those who have little time to train but already have a decent level of fitness
A workout plan.

Here is just a sampling of some of our free online half-marathon training plans:

Beginner And Novice Half Marathon Training Plans

Intermediate And Advanced Half Marathon Training Plans

Time Goal Based Half Marathon Training Plans

Following a training plan appropriate to your fitness level will help ensure that you make it to the starting line (and finish line!) with the physical and mental fitness you will need to succeed in the race.

A person opening an energy gel.

#2: Fuel Properly

A half marathon is 13.1 miles, so your nutrition leading up to the race is critical to support a successful run.

Depending on your target finish time, you may also need to fuel during the race. You should use your long runs as you prepare for your half marathon in training to practice your fueling strategy.

Many runners experience gastrointestinal distress when first trying to take in calories while running. 

Experimenting with different types of sports drinks, gels, or real-food fueling options will help you find the fueling strategy that works best for you.

It will also give your digestive system time to become accustomed to handling calories during exercise so that you don’t end up skipping nutrition altogether and bonking during the race or getting cramps, nausea, or diarrhea on race day.

People running a half marathon.

#3: Don’t Try Anything New

One of the classic mistakes that beginners make when running their first half marathon or other race is trying something new on race day.

Whether it is a pair of new shoes, new socks, a new type of energy gel, a new sports bra, or even a new hairstyle if you have long hair, introducing something you have not wear-tested in training is a recipe for unpredictable challenges.

You might end up with blisters, chafing, or hair that keeps flopping in your face.

Newbies are often particularly excited to try some new fuel or clothing accessories that they pick up at the race expo or packet pick-up area before the race.

Or, perhaps, you have an enthusiastic, supportive partner or friend who gets you a special pair of socks or shirt to wear on race day.

While this is all fine and good, unless you have actually had time to try and test the gear or fueling option—preferably during a long run—you should hold off on sporting your new-found running accouterments for the next race after you have had time to make sure that they work well for you.

People running.

There is nothing worse than putting in weeks or months of training for a half marathon only to find that you get horrific blisters during the race because you are wearing brand-new shoes or different socks than you’ve never worn before. 

Instead of being able to focus on having a great race, you will be wincing in pain or pulling over on the side of the course, trying to adjust your socks to make the friction go away.

Stick with what you know. Again, use your long runs to rehearse race day in terms of what you will wear, what you will eat, when you will take in fuel, and so on.

#4: Check the Weather

We can’t control the weather on race day, and even though we would love nothing more than to have a perfectly crisp, dry, sunny day for a race, you have to work with the weather that Mother Nature gives you come race day morning.

Although weather forecasts are not 100% accurate, start paying attention to the forecasted weather several days out from the race and continue to track changes. 

This will help you have an idea of what you will need to wear, what types of layers will be most comfortable, if you will need a visor or sunglasses for the sun, if you will need gloves for unusually cold weather, if you should plan on rain on race day, and so on.

One of the best pieces of advice for when you are preparing for a half marathon in training is to run in all conditions. 

Of course, while you should run indoors on the treadmill if it is unsafe to run outside because of sleet or other horrific weather, training in the rain, wind, cold, and heat will help these sorts of environmental difficulties not feel so brutally uncomfortable or shocking come race day. 

For some tips for racing in the rain, check out our article here.

A weather forecast.

#5: Study the Course

Although any organized half marathon will likely have a well-marked course, studying the race map, at least to the point that you can familiarize yourself with the general sense of the route ahead of time, can be really helpful. 

There will be times during your half marathon race when you might start to lose steam or feel unmotivated, but if you know that there is a big downhill coming up or that you have 3 miles to go, you can find another gear to keep you going.

At the same time, if you know that it’s a very hilly course or that the race starts downhill but that the second half of the course is much more difficult, you can properly partition your energy at the start of the race so that you don’t end up feeling totally depleted by the time you hit the hills.

#6: Wear a Watch and Heart Rate Monitor 

Wearing a chest strap heart rate monitor or fitness watch with wrist-based heart rate monitoring has become increasingly popular amongst recreational and competitive athletes alike.

A person running looking at their watch.

Your heart rate during exercise can provide an indication of your aerobic fitness as well as the intensity of your workout.

Tracking your exercise heart rate data can help you assess your fitness progress and can improve the effectiveness of your workouts because you can ensure that you are pushing your body appropriately, depending on the goals of the workout.

This is particularly helpful while preparing for running a half marathon so that your training is indeed targeted towards your fitness goals. However, wearing a watch and heart rate monitor on race day can also be super helpful. 

Although most large half marathons will have pace clocks along the course every few miles, being able to look at your pace and heart rate during the race any time you want can be extremely helpful.

Runners often get caught up in the excitement of the crowds at the start of a half marathon and end up running much faster or harder than their fitness really supports. This can result in crashing and barely getting through the second half of the race.

People smiling and running.

An imporant one of our half marathon tips is to keep an eye on your heart rate and pace, especially during the first mile, and use that data to rein in your enthusiasm so that you have enough energy to get through the entire race.

In fact, one of the best racing strategies is often to run negative splits, which means that you actually run the second half of the race faster than the first.

#7: Have Fun

By the time you get to your half marathon race, you have put all of your training in the bank. The race is the celebration of all the work you have done.

One of our best half marathon tips is to take in the experience, soak in the glory and the excitement of the crowds and fellow runners, and have a blast! You’ve earned it!

For more information on how to run a half marathon long run, check out our guide here.

Running gear.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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