How to Prepare for a Half Marathon
Can we all pause for a moment and take note of the words that I JUST WROTE?! ME.. Miss “I HATE RUNNING.” Yep. The same girl who went viral for her anti-runner’s anthem on The Huffington Post just ran her first half marathon. And what’s crazier…is that I’m actually considering running another.
I mean, not anytime soon. But maybe someday?
Because this was such an unbelievable road to get to, I feel like I should share some tidbits I’ve learned along the way. Whether you’re a total newbie like me and it’s your first race, or if you’re coming back after some time away, it’s always good to prepare yourself for what to expect on race day. Because what I have learned is that you can never fully know what to expect until your feet get out there on that course. But, it doesn’t hurt to try, right?
So keep on reading, learning, and running, my friends. I can’t wait to also welcome you into the 13.1 club 😉
Go to the Expo
If you’re able to check into the expo and pick up your packet yourself, DO SO. I had multiple friends offer to grab my bib and packet for me while I was at an event, but I wouldn’t let them do it.
There is absolutely nothing that beats that pre-run excitement when you’re sharing space with other about-to-be-runners. Especially when it’s your first big race.
For years I’ve accompanied Chad to various race expos, and I always felt like I was missing out. Seeing everyone wearing their gear, carrying their bags around, taking photos in front of various running step and repeats.. I mean, come on. They get to act like running celebs for a day. Who wouldn’t want to feel like that?
Go to the expo and take it all in – every second of it. Pick up your packet, get your t-shirt, and walk around that freaking expo. Check out the vendors, maybe buy yourself something new, and really live in the moment.
Take all the pre-race photos of yourself – trust me, you’ll want them for later.
Then after you’re done showing off and having fun, be a little bit responsible.
The expo is a great time to make sure you understand the race course and ask questions if you have any. Know where the water spots will be, and if you have friends or family coming to cheer you on, find out if there are any must-know cheering spots along the course (or any places to avoid. Shout out to the desk manager in San Antonio still for alerting me to the danger zones during Chad’s first full marathon a few years back).
Some races will even offer a bus tour of the route. If you’re not from the area, consider joining. You’ll meet other runners plus you’ll get a first hand experience of what the course will be like on race day.
Don’t Try Anything New
If you haven’t trained with it, then race day is NOT the day to give it a try. This applies to pretty much everything. New shoes, new drinks (gatorade, electrolytes), energy bites (gummies, gu, snacks, etc.), sunglasses, hats, gear.. the whole shebang.
If you haven’t spent the last x amount of weeks training with something, yet you implement it on race day, you could find yourself in a world of hurt. Meaning – your body isn’t used to the newness of whatever it is, and it could negatively impact your run. If you want to try something new, make sure you’ve trained with it at least once or twice beforehand and that you feel comfortable with it.
I’ve definitely fallen guilty to starting out a race too strong. A couple weeks ago I participated in my first 10 mile race, and the first six to seven miles were great. I started out strong, pushed myself, had a great pace.. and then mile seven-eight came along and I had to pray to sweet Jesus to be able to finish. I hit a wall and hit it hard.
My problem? I had gone out too hard too fast. Felt a little too confident with how strong I felt, and pushed through it. Which in theory sounds like a great idea, but in practice, it’s terrible.
Start your race out paced. Don’t let yourself push. Save that energy for later on in your mileage, and if you have some gas left over in the tank, save it for a stronger finish. Trust me – you will be so glad you did.
Plan your outfit in advance
This should be a life lesson for just about everything 😉
Know exactly what you’re going to wear on race day, so you can save yourself the stress and time once that morning rolls around. Set out your clothes the night before – every single thing you’re going to wear down to the hair ties and the socks.
Secure your bib to your shirt or shorts – and take all the guess work out of what’s going on your body that day. Trust me. It may seem like it’s not a big deal, but those few minutes race day morning will be a total time and stress saver.
Hydrate and Carb Load
Not only will you want to make sure you’re eating and drinking enough the morning of your race, but you’ll want to make sure your nutrition is on point the week leading up to your race as well.
Although you should be hydrating with water appropriately every single day, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water at least two days before your half marathon.
Let’s be real… the best part about running any kind of race is getting to carb load, am I right? So start early. It’s a common misconception that you’ll aunt to eat ALL the pasta the night before a race. A lot of people actually start carb loading at lunch two days prior.
More carbs? I’m in.
Spend some QT in the Kitchen & Bathroom
A moment of real talk: there’s nothing that worries me more than trusting a fart on race day. Sorry, but it’s true. I saw that on a sign during my run and I never felt so connected to another human being’s truth.
I personally like to get up in plenty of time to drink a cup of coffee for the caffeine and … intestinal affects. Ahem. That way, I don’t have to worry about anything happening during the race.
Nutrition the morning of the race is just as important as nutrition leading up to race day. For breakfast, be sure to eat simple carbs for a quick release of energy and protein. Also, hydrate. Drink your water.
Avoid high fiber or fatty foods, which can cause unwanted digestion issues while you’re running (aka.. unwanted/unplanned porta potty breaks and those untrustworthy farts).
Options for pre-race breakfast foods could include bagels/toast, fruit, and protein bars. About an hour before race time, make sure you’re drinking water and popping in any energy chews (but only if you’ve trained with them!)
Familiarize Yourself With the Course
If you decide not to take the group bus trip around the course because you don’t like strangers or germs, then at least still find time where you can go see the route for yourself, or study the course map.
This is especially important if you’re not from the area. Learn where the hills are going to be, and study where the water stations will be in relation to the mile markers. This can help you plan those water breaks accordingly.
Compile a Stellar Playlist
Duh. Set some tunes that will keep you motivated, especially if you think you may hit a wall. I personally didn’t listen to any music for the first 11 miles of my half. Instead, I enjoyed listening to the crowd and chatting with the runners around me (or moreso I was chatting at them and they just kept on running. But still. I enjoyed the experience).
When I started to hit a wall around mile 11, I desperately wanted some pick-me-up tunes, so I popped in my ear buds and turned on some Lizzo and That 100% B*tch got me through the last couple miles.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Not just the night before. You should always be trying to get plenty of sleep every single night, but I’m also human, and a mom, so I know this doesn’t always happen.
At the very least, try turning off social media and putting those phones down a little earlier each night the week leading up to your half. This will help your body get the rest it needs to recover and get you prepped for the big day. Try shooting for at least 8 hours of shut eye the night before race day!
Don’t you worry about a thing! (Sings). There is absolutely NOTHING to be nervous about come race day. My husband and one of my friends both told me that race day is simply a way of celebrating ALL the work you’ve put into training. All those runs, all those hours, all the things you’ve done to get you to this day.. and now it’s your chance to SHOW OFF. Enjoy the crowd and the cheers, and take in this moment and enjoy every single second of it.