Our Top Tips to Crush Your First Half Marathon

Runner looking at their shoes


How to Train for a Half Marathon | Running Tips for Your First Half Marathon | Best Half Marathons | Long-Distance Running Shoes | Running Socks | Running Water Bottles | Running Backpacks | Running Belts | Wireless Earbuds for Running | Garmin Fitness Watches

Gearing up for your first half marathon? First off, get excited—you’re about to embark on an incredible running journey. The half marathon is one of the greatest race distances to complete. It’s 13.1 miles of fun, no matter what race you sign up for. Plus, there will be milestones to celebrate even before you hit the start line.

For those of you who are first-time half marathoners, this training cycle will bring a lot of firsts (both good and bad). It might be the first time you're following a training plan, your first time using a gel, the first time you experience the dreaded chafe, and your first time running double digit distances. After all these firsts, you’ll feel like a seasoned pro by the time you make it to the starting line. And, once you cross the finish line, you’ll join the illustrious .5 percent of Americans who have completed a half marathon.

So, prepare to put your body and mind to the test. With our training tips and pieces of wisdom, you’ll conquer half marathon training and have fun while doing so.

What is a good time for a half marathon?

Let's put this question into perspective: The male world record holder, Jacob Kiplimo, averaged 4:23 per mile to run a 57:31. On the female side, Letesenbet Gidey ran a 1:02:52, averaging 4:48 per mile. So, most would call that pretty extraordinary. In terms of recreational athletes, the average for all runners hovers around 2:00, which is a 9:12 split per mile.

But average is just that—an average, and "good" is subjective based on your own running history and goals. If you want to aim for a time goal, be sure to set it after assessing your own health and current fitness level. Many first time half marathoners make it a goal just to finish the race which is a wonderful and ambitious goal in itself.

How to Mentally Prepare

Speaking of setting goals, it's important to go into training with the right mindset. When you've decided to run a half marathon, perhaps the most important thing you must do—before stepping out onto the road or jumping on a treadmill—is ask yourself why. It's a difficult feat, and there will be times when you just don't want to train any longer. It's during those times that you will want to call upon the "why". Having a set purpose in mind can make it easier to refocus and continue on.

Now, examine your why. Is it that you just want to finish? Ask yourself why again. Did you set a time goal? Why? You want to peel back the layers to reach beyond the extrinsic goal to get to the intrinsic goal.

Maybe the finish line symbolizes a feeling of newfound confidence for you. Perhaps the time goal isn’t quite as important as the endurance you’re building. Whatever it is, find that "why", write it down, and keep it at the forefront of your mind both during training and when racing.

Run Smarter with a Beginner Half Marathon Training Plan

If you are not just new to half marathons but new to running in general, give yourself plenty of time to train. The length of your training cycle is going to depend on your fitness level: Are you switching over to running from swimming and have the cardiovascular strength of a superhuman? Or, have you taken a few years off from working out? Both are fine places to start!

But if you cannot easily run 3 consecutive miles, the training plan needs to be longer by at least a month. Many runners have found great success using a 20-week Couch to Half Marathon training plan. If 3 miles is easy or you’ve been running 10 miles a week or more, your beginning training plan can likely range from 12 to 16 weeks long.

No matter where you start, you should gradually increase distances and mileage volume over time. Your plan needs to incorporate easy runs, long runs, strength training days, longer runs, and rest days. The last two weeks before race day are the taper, which is where you cut back on miles and intensity to give your body a chance to restore itself so you'll feel fresh and well-rested come race day.

Master the Long Run

Magic happens during the long runs, which is where the majority of your weekly mileage comes from during training.

"You have to teach your body to run for a long time. It doesn't just know how to do that right off the bat," says RRCA-certified running coach Erica Coviello. "Throughout training, each long run increases your aerobic capacity and stroke volume, and builds muscle strength in every part of your legs, working ligaments, tendons, and synovial fluid. Your mind needs to be able to hack it too."

Running a marathon

How to pace the long run

The greatest gift you can give your body is to slow down during these runs. Running long distances is already intense, so there’s no need to run as fast as you can. You should be able to speak in full sentences throughout the entirety of the miles.

If you get out of breath, walk. In fact, walking is totally fine even when you're in a race situation. Some people have run personal bests using the run-walk method. So if running 13.1 miles seems daunting to you, you can experiment with running for a set time followed by walking for a set time during your long runs.

How to fuel and hydrate

You should test out your fueling method during long training runs. This starts even before you step outside, all the way up to dinner the night before. First, drink water. You should be well-hydrated always, but especially the days leading up to a long run.

Next, your meal the night before should be balanced with proteins, carbs, and healthy fat. Gone are the days of carb-loading with spaghetti. Think something more along the lines of grilled chicken breast with brown rice and broccoli baked in olive oil. Try out a few different meals and avoid anything that gives you GI distress during the run.

When you hit the road, you’ll need calories for any run longer than 90 minutes. There are many options that are mostly simple carbs and sugar which can help you avoid hitting a wall: think gummies, gels, dried fruit, jellybeans. Try them all to find the kind that your stomach can handle. Once you ingest your calories of choice, you should take in fluids based on what works best for you body (could be water or a sports drink like Gatorade).

It's also important to figure out how to time fuel and hydration. Many runners will drink every 20 minutes. They’ll have their first snack at 90 minutes then fuel up every 30 minutes after that. But, it’s important to note that you don't have to wait until 90 minutes. You might feel yourself dragging at the 70-minute mark. Use the long runs on your training plan as time to figure out how to maintain your energy and strength without feeling heavy and bloated.

How to mentally get through the long run

During your long runs, you’ll want to listen to your body and not necessarily your brain. Running mindfully and paying attention to how you're feeling is different from listening to that terrible little voice telling you to stop. There will be at least one long run where you will feel like your feet are stuck in cement and you just don't want to take another step, but unless there is actual pain keep going. This is where you train your brain and build the grit and determination necessary for completing a half marathon.

If you find yourself at a mental wall, pause for a moment. Stop the run. Admire your surroundings and think about all the miles you've accomplished so far. Take some deep breaths. Give yourself a choice—literally say “should I keep going?” By giving yourself the option to stop, you can calm your mind and make your body trust that your brain won’t do anything to put it in harm's way. You might feel lighter or at least more relaxed.

Now here's the key: Start running again at a slower pace than you were going before. Try a run-walk for 10 minutes, alternating 30 seconds of walking with 30 seconds of running. At the end of that 10-minute block, remind yourself again of how far you've made it and then of your “why.” By thinking positively and appreciating your body and its accomplishments, you can push past that mental wall.

Go Shopping for the Right Gear

Sure, you could run a half marathon in a cotton T-shirt, basketball shorts, and your favorite pair of Vans, but it's not going to be comfortable. Investing in a few items is necessary because greater distances bring new challenges, and the right apparel and accessories can help. Let's break it down.

Shoes

Not all shoes are created equal, and different feet need different styles. The best thing you can do is go to a local running store and have a trained professional take a look at the way you move and your foot shape. They can bring out shoes to try based on your body and preferences. If you've been running for awhile and have a great pair of shoes, make sure to change them out every 300 miles.

GET RUNNING SHOES

Apparel

Sweat-wicking is the name of the game in terms of performance materials. But when it comes to cut and style, it’s all about personal preference. You might want to consider shorts with pockets, especially if you aren't going to wear a fuel belt (more on this below). You'll need enough space to fit a car key, fuel, your phone, and a photo ID.

The biggest issue runners have with clothing? Some pieces will literally rub you the wrong way and chafe, especially when you're running longer distances. That’s why it’s essential to test your race day outfit out during long runs to make sure you’re comfortable.

Finally, invest in a good pair of socks. Find what works to keep your feet cool, dry, and free of blisters. Also, some socks provide compression that hits in just the right spots.

GET RUNNING CLOTHES

Accessories

Fuel belts are great to carry what you need for 13.1 miles. They’re essentially running-specific fanny packs. The best ones won’t bounce while you run and can hold lots of stuff. Some have attachments for water bottles. You can also use a hydration vest or a handheld water bottle.

Another great running accessory is a fitness watch. It’s a great way to keep track of your miles and know your paces, which is key during training. Some will even let you upload music and training plans.

GET RUNNING GEAR

What Not to Do When Training for a Half Marathon

Training for a half marathon is all about self discovery and building mental and physical strength. But it doesn’t come without a few challenges. To help you navigate training and race day, here’s a list of things not to do based on the experience of millions of first-time half marathoners:

  1. Don't skimp on calories.You will be hungry. Eat healthfully and plentifully. Now is not the time to restrict, even if you are using this as a method to lose weight.
  2. Don't eat terribly. Just because we said to eat does not give you the go-ahead to ban veggies from your diet. Your body needs nutrients that you cannot get from processed foods. You can definitely indulge at times but everything in moderation.
  3. Don't run too fast or too far. Stick to the plan. As you start to run longer distances, there will be runs where you feel like you can keep going…and going…and going. Resist this urge. Running too long can lead to overuse injuries and you won’t have time for that!
  4. Don't disregard the importance of pace. In a beginner half marathon training plan, most of your runs will be at an easy conversational pace. If you have a recent 5K or 10K race result and want to know the exact pace you should be hitting, plug it into an online pace calculator.
  5. Don't skip strength training. Too many runners forget that you need to keep your muscles strong to support the amount of impact and strain you put on them during this period of concentrated running. Bodyweight exercises like squats, glute bridges, pushups, lunges, planks, and bird dogs are easy to incorporate.
  6. Don't skip the taper. The taper period is there for a scientific reason. It actually takes your body from a state of depletion to a state of strength. You might think you should do a longer run during those two weeks because you need to make sure you can actually cover the distance, but just don't. Trust the process, trust the plan.

How to Train for a Half Marathon | Running Tips for Your First Half Marathon | Best Half Marathons | Long-Distance Running Shoes | Running Socks | Running Water Bottles | Running Backpacks | Running Belts | Wireless Earbuds for Running | Garmin Fitness Watches

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