Running your first half marathon should be a fun and memorable experience. It should be remembered as the day you followed through with a goal and showed yourself that you can accomplish anything. This will require some research and dedication on your part. But, you can do it!
There are several things to be considered before setting out to conquer your first 13.1 miler. I will look back at what I did (and didn’t do) so that you can be sure to safely cross the finish line.
1.) Find your race – There are many resources out on the internet today to assist you in finding the race that best suits you. I prefer Runners World’s Race Finder which allows you to locate your race within a specified distance range from your location. You can also select the date range and race distance. Be sure to keep in mind that a race in September or October means that you will be training in the heat. At least, that’s how it goes here in North Carolina.
After locating the race, check the course map from the race’s website. What does the elevation appear to be? Is it flat? I would recommend looking for a flat course for your first race. What is the registration fee? What cause does this race support? You may have to do some searching, but the race for you is out there.
2.) Get a plan together – Michael Jordan didn’t wait until game-day to lace up his sneakers and get out on the court. Neither should you. I have found different websites that offer up free training plans for all distances. The best I have found was on (once again) Runner’s World. They have a Smart Coach interactive trainingplan that you can adjust to fit your needs. I strongly advise anyone completing a race for the first time to follow a plan. It is far too easy to fall off track. Besides, these plans have been tested by the pros. If they recommend them, then they must work. Right?
I also suggest using a smartphone application to help you keep track of your progress. I have been using Runkeeper for the past year or so. It tracks my mileage, calories burned, elevation, and much, much more. The best feature of Runkeeper is that it will post your activities straight to your social media pages. Your friends will be able to keep track of your activities and cheer you on every step of the way.
4.) Fuel you race – This subject gets a little tricky. People run on many different diets. Some load up on fish and beef. Others stick to pasta and bread. I will not even begin trying to persuade anyone to eat the way I do. For now, let’s keep it simple. Your body is like a car. If you put oil and gas in it, you will make it down the road. If you begin putting kerosene into the tank, you may make it down the road, you may not. If you do get down the road, it probably won’t be pretty.
Your body needs different macronutrients to fuel itself and recover. Among these, are carbohydrates, glycogen, protein, and fat. Runners are typically pretty aware of how much of these they consume throughout the day. These are not the only nutrients that need to be tracked by the way. These are just a few I keep account of while training. Some people are dead-set on carbo-loading the week of the race. I have found that if I am constantly keeping up with my training on the diet I am already on, then why change it. I have yet to find that loading up on carbs the few days leading up to a race has helped me very much. May psych me out a little. But hey, whatever works.
Stay hydrated but don’t overdo it. I recommend drinking a few glasses of water the night before the big day. Any more than that and you may be in some serious pain a couple of miles into your race. I believe I shaved a few minutes off of my last half due to my need to reach a port-a-potty. No two people are exactly the same. So, be careful of those people who tell you to do it their way. I say do your research and do what makes you feel comfortable.
5.) What to wear? It can be tough trying to guess what temperature it will be a few months off from race day. Unless of course you’re in Arizona in July. Then you wear as little as possible. There are just a few simple ideas to follow when thinking about your race day apparel. Don’t wear anything that you haven’t already broken in and tested. Two days before the race is not an appropriate time to start testing out the Vibram Five Fingers if you’ve been plowing away in some chunky trail shoes from Nike. (Side Note – I will be doing a review on the Vibram Bikila LS in the near future)
Another thing; some races DO NOT allow ipods, mp3 players, headphones, or the like. They see them as distractions that could potentially be a safety hazard for the other runners. I’m not saying that you can’t sneak them on after the race starts, but do so at your own risk. You may cost yourself your chip time.
As far as pants and shorts are concerned, I prefer Brooks, Pearl Izumi, or R-Gear from RoadRunner Sports. You may find it useful to go to weather.com the week of the race and place your bets on the weather prediction. Sometimes it’s right, most of the time it’s close. Be prepared to run, regardless of the conditions outside.
6.) Race Day – Eat a light breakfast an hour or two before start time. I typically have a bowl of organic rolled oats with raisins and flax seeds washed down with a kale smoothie. Give your stomach time to digest and remember not to switch up your eating habits right before the race. It could spell disaster. Be there early and prepare to compete for parking. Hopefully you have already picked up your race packet a day or two before the race. If not, you may be able to pick it up on the morning of the race. You will be waiting in line if you waited. Find your people (if you didn’t ride together). Stretch, getting the blood flowing in your legs.
This is the day! You have finally made it! Head for the Start/Finish with your race bib in place and work your way into the crowd. The race may have markers telling you where to put yourself according to your avg. pace. Please be mindful of those who will have to pass you if you get too close to the front. Not saying that I’m one of those people, lol.
So, this is it. A gun shot will ring out and you will be on your way. Remember that you have been working hard for this and that giving up now is not an option. If you stuck to your training, then you can and will finish. Just stop at the water stations as you need to and refuel your body with electrolytes. Somewhere along the way you may face the inner voice telling you that you can’t go any further. Focus in on your surroundings. Most races have swarms of folks yelling and cheering you on. They are usually enough to keep me going.
7.) Celebrate – You have just finished your first Half Marathon! It’s not time to stop yet. Get out there and celebrate a little. Reward yourself for your hard efforts. This is a good time to hit up those folks you have at the finish line for a nice big meal.