13.1 Tips for Running Your First Half Marathon

16131867964_4053e65f49_oThe half marathon is the fastest growing race distance. If 13.1 miles is on your to-do list, prepare yourself with these suggestions to have a rewarding race day.

By Henry Howard


That’s how many half marathoner finishers there were in 2014, according to Running USA’s annual half marathon report. About three in five of the finishes were attributed to women.

Those 2 million crossings of the finish line make the half marathon the fastest growing race distance. It’s no wonder that the distance is so popular — it’s often the gateway run of choice for those looking to bridge the gap between a 5K and a full marathon.

While the popularity of the marathon is also increasing, not everyone wants to complete 26.2 miles. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Half marathons present their own challenges. The average race time — 2:03 for males and 2:21 for females — means that runners will need to take their preparation, training and nutrition seriously.

So, you want to run a half marathon?

Maybe you’ve run/walked a local 5K or two. Or maybe you’ve been inspired by others who have completed half marathons. Whatever the case, you have what it takes to finish a half marathon, as Marathon Training Academy running coach Angie Spencer likes to say.

I did my first half marathon about six months after I started running. It was my first non-5K event and I learned quickly one of the golden rules of running: Don’t go out too fast. I did and paid for it with extremely slow paces in miles eight through 11.

But I finished and that was the goal for that race. Since then, I have completed another five or so half marathons, including two within three weekends in June, which qualified me for the Half Fanatics club.

During one of those recent half marathons, other participants inspired me. There were several who were running/walking the challenging trail course. These runners did not possess the typical runner’s body. However, they ran, walked and pushed themselves through 13.1 miles while others — perhaps in better physical shape — were not being active. That spoke volumes to me.

I credit those participants with setting a challenging goal and achieving it, even if they decided to never run a half marathon or another race again. Others will take on that primary challenge and grow it from there. Perhaps committing to a goal — becoming a Half Fanatic, or completing a half marathon in every state, or whatever.

But no one can achieve these goals without lacing up the running shoes for the first time and setting out on the journey. Maybe some of you have a half marathon on your bucket list, or made that a resolution for this year. It’s not too late. There are plenty of great half marathon races in the fall, which gives you plenty of time to train properly and finish strong.

But to do so, you’ll need some expert advice.

13.1 tips for half marathoners

Here are 13.1 tips for new half marathoners, courtesy of Angie Spencer, running coach here at Marathon Training Academy:

  1. Get fitted for running shoes at a specialty running store. Having your gait and foot evaluated in the beginning can be a great first step to running comfortably.

  2. Start to build a solid running base. It’s important to gradually build your mileage to avoid injury and burnout.

  3. Consider doing a run/walk method. If you’re totally new to running using run/walk intervals can be easier on the body.

  4. Choose a training plan. Find a smart half marathon plan that’s suitable for your level of running. Your first half marathon is not the time to be setting aggressive time goals.

  5. Pick a race. You may want to choose a local half marathon for your first to reduce the pre-race stress. Destination races are also very popular and provide a good training incentive. Check out www.halfmarathons.net for potential half marathons.

  6. Don’t forget to cross train. Doing focused low impact exercise will make you a stronger and more injury-proof runner. Activities like yoga, swimming, cycling, core training, Pilates, rowing, and strength training are all excellent.

  7. Avoid chaffing. As your runs become longer you may notice that the skin rubs together or causes friction with your clothing resulting in chaffing. Be prepared by using some sort of anti-friction ointment to eliminate this pain.

  8. Wear technical running clothes for more comfort. Avoid cotton garments as this doesn’t breathe well and can increase the risk of chaffing.

  9. Keep a running log. This can be on paper or online and will help you track your progress and identify any issues before they become big problems.

  10. Listen to your body. Don’t ignore small issues. Identifying potential aches and pains early can help prevent long-term injury. For people with lung disorders, getting yourself checked by a doctor can certainly help you learn more about what causes lung disease and how to prevent them during training.

  11. Develop a fueling strategy. As you begin running for over an hour you will need to consider some type of fuel for sustained energy. Start to experiment early in your training so that you have a tried and true system for race day.

  12. Educate and motivate yourself by learning more. There are a variety of podcast, magazines, books and running forums that can take your knowledge to the next level.

  13. Run your own race. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Focus on running well and finishing strong.

13.1. Have fun! Long distance running is very fulfilling. Enjoy the way your life has changed for the better.

At the finish line

Once you cross that finish line, don’t forget to take time to celebrate your accomplishment. You may swear off running ever again — just like every runner has. And, if you do, that’s ok.

But as you heal and think about how far you’ve come, you might get the itch again. And as you consider events, and flip through race calendars, one thing will definitely be different.

This time, you will know without a doubt that you have what it takes to finish a half marathon.

photo credit: Peter Mooney https://www.flickr.com/photos/peterm7/

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