Preparing For A Half Marathon: Thirteen Tips For A 13 Mile Run

As I was running I started thinking, “What tips can I take back that might help someone getting ready to run their first half marathon?”

Take Your Camera and Extra Clothes and Check Your Adrenalin At The Door. 

Seasoned event runners don’t give much thought to getting up on a Saturday morning to run a half, or even a full marathon.  For me it was different.

I put in some on-the-clock training hours but also considerable time figuring out how to make my training pay off so that I could enjoy the event without being too cold or warm, tired, or stressed.  The secret lies in getting organized well ahead of race day so that nothing is left to chance when the time finally arrives and your nerves are standing straight up.

Race Track

I did the Indy Mini half marathon last year. This is the Indy 500 race track that’s part of the course.

Two Weeks Before The Race

1.  Nutrition – Two weeks ahead of race day you’re still doing some good training runs so now’s the time to focus on the best nutrition possible.  Stay away from food and drinks that have simple sugars or are high in fat.  Now more than ever, you want foods that are nutritionally dense.  Focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins.  A green smoothie for breakfast or lunch is a good option too.

2.  Hydration  – Increase your water intake.  You should be drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day.  If it’s summer or you live in a warm climate bump it up to ten glasses a day.

3.  Game Day Shoes – Pick out the shoes you plan to wear on race day.  Running shoes should have between 40 and 50 miles on them before you race in them so if your event is two weeks away it’s probably too late to buy new shoes.  But, if your shoes are worn and don’t have enough life in them to give you proper cushioning  and good support, consider buying a new pair and wear them throughout the day for the next two weeks to get some extra miles on them.

4.  Jelly Beans – Sports jelly beans are loaded with caffeine, sodium, potassium, and carbohydrates and can provide just enough energy to give you a second wind if you start to fatigue around mile 9.  Don’t wait until race day to test them out.  Pick a couple of brands and try them while you’re out on your training runs so you’ll know that you like them and they like you. On race day save them until you really need them.

  • One word of caution.  I have a friend who popped one in his mouth while he was running an event and he sucked it into his windpipe and wasn’t able to finish the race.  I’m sure this was just bad luck for him but it doesn’t hurt to slow down, or even pull over if it’s time for a bean.

One Week Before The Race

5.  Music Is Magic – I started experiencing some nervous energy one week before the marathon. Finding new music to download and putting a play list together helped channel  that energy into something that would pay off later on.  I have a playlist with 100 songs on it that shuffle.  I know that every song on the list is one that I enjoy running to.  This works for me because I can turn the iPod on, hit play and never touch it again until I’m done.  I don’t want to be hunting down the songs that I want to hear while I’m running an event.  I have a play list that I created a few months ago (check it out here) and continue to add songs to it including Mr. Saxobeat, Who Dat Girl, Call Me Maybe and Wild Ones.

6.  Unpredictable Weather – Check the weather so you’ll know what you need to wear before, during and after the run.  For the Illinois run we hung around before the start in gloves, hoodies and wind breakers.  We left most of that behind.  I would rather be on the side of having too many clothes in the car to take on or off rather than not enough. If rain is predicted take a big green garbage bag and cut a hole in the top of it so you can put it over your head.  If you have to stand around at the start line in the rain it will keep you dry. These garbage-bag raincoats were all over the place at the event on Saturday.

7.  Clothes: Lots of Them – Pack a full change of clothes for after the race.  You’ll hang out after the race for awhile in the damp clothes you ran in but there is nothing like dry clothes – and shoes – to put on for the drive home.  I packed my drive-home-clothes in a separate bag so they would all be together and easy to grab when it was time to change.

Three Days Before the Race

8.  A Real Camera – Pack your camera and make sure it has working batteries.  You will want a picture of you at the finish line taken with a real camera, not one that is taken with a Smartphone.  You need a quality picture.  Trust me on this one.

You will want a picture of yourself when you finish.

You will want a picture of yourself when you finish.

9.  Smart Carbs (Not A Carb Load) – Add an extra serving or two of complex carbohydrates to your diet such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, beans and fruits.  Complex carbohydrates will provide your muscles with an adequate supply of glycogen which will enhance your performance on game day.

10.  What Time Does It Start? – Double check the start time and location of the race.  If you’re not familiar with the area make sure you have a map that shows where you need to be, at what time and what arrangements there are for parking.  Is parking free?  If you have to park on a city street or metered lots you’ll need quarters.

The Big Day

11.  Early To Bed – Get to bed early and get up early so that you can eat breakfast at least three hours before the race and take your time getting ready.  I’ve read many times how important it is to eat a breakfast that you have eaten before.  Don’t try out anything new the day of the event.  If you want to find the best pre-race breakfast start working on that a few weeks before.  Oatmeal is my standard breakfast so that’s what I had.  It’s an easy, warm, comfort food that stays with me all morning.

12.  Feel The Rush? – Don’t underestimate the power of the adrenalin rush that takes place when the race starts.  That rush has the potential to throw you off of your game and leave you drained before you’ve completed the 13 miles.  Standing at a half marathon line with 10,000 other people is exciting. Look around.  No one is standing still.  You can feel the enormous energy oozing out of the crowd and into your body and it’s really cool.  But if you get taken up with it and go out of the gate too fast you’ll lost your momentum once the adrenalin level tapers off.  Start out slow and then push yourself after the halfway point if you’re feeling great and have a lot of energy left.

13.  Experience It.  You’ve worked hard and are ready to do something others can only dream of.  Take it in.  Look at the people and scenery around you.  Say thank you to the folks along the way that are cheering you on even though they have no idea who you are.  Be gracious to the volunteers handing you Gatorade or water.  Return the high five to the boy standing on the sidewalk that reaches his palm up to you as you run by him.  Have someone take your picture at the finish line with your medal on then post it on your Facebook page.  Give yourself a high five. Let it all soak in. Savor it. Celebrate. It doesn’t get any better than this.

No doubt number 13 is the most important, but if you skip 1 through 12 enjoying the race might be more of a challenge.

What tips do you have for someone that is going to run their first half marathon?

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