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[This is a guest post from Thomas Watson from www.MarathonHandbook.com about 9 things you need to know before running your first half marathon. He shares some great training tips and advice for runners at any level.]
So you’ve decided to run a half marathon, and you’re pumped. You’ve shared your race entry on your socials and have set out on a brand new pair of running shoes.
This is going to be amazing.
There are countless articles out there about how to train for a half marathon. Still, there are some things you should know about race day itself.
Crossing the finish line may be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
However, it’s not going to be a perfect journey from A to B. It’s likely to be messy, full of unexpected hitches, and the ultimate test of your muscles. Chances are, something will not go the way you expect.
So, it’s our job to make sure you’re as prepared as possible. Without further ado, here are 9 things no one tells you about running a half marathon.
1. You’ll have to invest financially.
Running gear doesn’t stop at a great pair of running shoes.
Quality, breathable clothes, race entry fees, and any accessories (such as a smartwatch or water bottle) can add up fast.
It can be so easy to get caught up in things to try, too. Energy gels to slurp mid-race? Hydration pack running vest? How do you say no?
Whatever gear you end up with, make sure you try it out on a long run before race day!
That fancy running pack might begin to chafe after an hour of running, those tasty gels might actually upset your stomach.
In short: Don’t do anything new on race day.
Plus, there’s that mouth-watering, post-race victory meal. Make sure you budget well!
2. Running is just as much mental as physical.
It’s important to gain muscle strength and endurance for the big day, but you’ll need to train your brain just as much.
Your mind will likely try to quit on you long before your muscles do.
At that point, you’ll need to dig deep inside of yourself for those last scraps of willpower.
Be sure to build up your mental toughness with longer training runs. Start doing these well before you step up to the actual starting line.
Do your long training runs at a slow, comfortable pace – don’t try to run fast or hit your target race pace if you have one, it’ll burn you out.
Long training runs are all about building endurance, not speed.
3. Start line adrenaline can ruin your race.
The start line of a half marathon is a breeding ground for adrenaline.
All those months of training, plus a couple of weeks tapering (when you gradually wind-down your workouts to be ready for race day), means your body is primed and ready to perform.
However, that start line buzz can cause you to go out too fast. It’s one of the most common mistakes that rookie half marathon runners make.
The starting pistol fires and you head out, feeling like you’re running on air. You check your GPS and can’t believe how fast you’re running, so decide to try and keep it up.
Inevitably, you gradually burn through that initial adrenaline and find yourself slowing down, getting fatigued, and feel the wall looming.
Starting too aggressively is a quick way to exhaust your legs and end up having to walk.
So from the first step, stick to your target pace – and if you don’t have a target pace, choose a comfortable, conversational pace and aim to maintain it throughout your 13.1 miles.
4. You should have a friend waiting at the finish line with a fresh change of clothes.
At the end of that many miles, no one looks their best. No one feels their best.
Do you know what makes them feel better? Peeling off the outfit that has soaked up all their efforts over hours of running and putting on something clean.
Once your body cools down, you’ll be glad you kept the chill away with something dry.
5. Your emotions will be all over the place.
So many things can happen over the course of 13.1 miles.
A sneaker might begin to rub and chafe. Your stomach may begin to rebel. Finding a bathroom with short lines might be a challenge. What starts out as exciting and fun can easily turn stressful.
Remember: for both the blissful moments and the hard ones, you made those happen. Your own two feet carried you far.
Even the struggles are something you should be proud of, because you made the choice to do this challenge. And you are doing it.
The finish line is even crazier. You will feel all the emotions at once.
First, there’s the thrill of victory. You might feel like a downright Viking.
Along with that is a host of other emotions, too: shock that you did it, relief that it’s over, and regret that it’s finished. You will probably be hurting a bit.
On top of it all, there’s euphoria, that beautiful runner’s high. It’s a powerful cocktail. No one will blame you if you tear up a little.
6. You probably won’t sleep well the night before the big race.
It’s like having an early flight to catch the next morning. You know you set your alarm–but did you really? Better check again.
While you’re at it, you might mentally scroll through a list of everything you’ll need tomorrow. All while fighting off a healthy dose of pre-race jitters.
Between all of that, sleep could be a bit hard to come by. Don’t worry. This happens to pretty much everyone.
Lay out your clothes and gear the night before to give your mind less to worry about. Have everything set up so you can literally roll out of bed and slip into your race gear.
Set two alarms. That way you’ll stop second-guessing yourself.
Try to keep your thoughts positive and encouraging. You’ve got this.
7. There will be surprises.
For one, embarrassing injuries happen all the time. Anything from a sprained ankle to runner’s diarrhea can happen right in the middle of your race.
Digestive problems are very common. So much, in fact, that experts recommend wearing black shorts, just in case.
In your race preparation, you want to run through everything that could happen and how you can be prepared for it.
The weather could also take a turn for the rainy. It could hail, even. This is why you should invest in the right gear and get used to running in the rain.
Water-resistant or moisture-wicking fabrics can make all the difference between a comfortable run and a miserable one.
8. Post-half marathon blues are a real thing.
Training for a half marathon can feel like a second job.
You’ve put yourself through months of preparation and hard work. You might feel like your life is all about this race.
This is why the crash afterward can be so hard.
When the half marathon is over and the warm glow of accomplishment has faded, there is nothing left to train for.
You did it. There are big, empty spaces where your full training calendar used to be.
You can prevent this by taking a week to recover, then diving into a new training plan.
9. You’ll want to do it all over again.
Many say that the best cure for the post-half marathon blues is to sign right back up for another one.
With the Rocky-like montage of training and the incredible feeling at the finish line, marathon running can get addictive.
Some runners swear by marathon running as the activity that pulled them out of far worse habits.
With all the benefits you get, it’s no wonder so many people sign up for another one.
A study of 138 first-time runners in the London Marathon found that participants reduced their “vascular age” by about four years, meaning their hearts were much healthier.
Whether your half marathon is a one-time thing or not, you will never forget your first. And the next step might be to take on the big goal: the full 26.2 mile marathon.
Head to our free collection of marathon training plans to find the right one for your level and your goals.
And if you’re looking for a great way to stretch out and recover after your run, a good yoga routine is a must.
Avocadu’s Yoga Fat Loss Bible has detailed instructions and beginner modifications for your practice, and a 6-week workout plan perfect for cross-training and improving strength and flexibility.
About the Author
Thomas Watson is a marathon runner and author of three books on marathon running. He started running while at university, and gradually fell in love with long distance running–eventually competing in ultramarathons all over the globe.
He is now a UNESCA-certified running coach, and has coached runners all over the world. At his blog, Marathon Handbook, he shares his knowledge, tips, and skills with runners (and aspiring runners) of all skill levels.