13 Things to Know Before Running a Half Marathon

You've decided to run a half marathon, but do you really know what you're getting into? Here are 13 things to know about training for and running a half marathon. These tips will help you look like a seasoned half-marathoner and have a fantastic race experience.

You Don't Have to Run 13.1 Miles Before the Race

runner in park
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If you are new to running, you might assume that you need to run the full race distance (or beyond) to be ready for the race. But this isn't necessarily true.

To be physically prepared for the race, you can participate in long runs totaling 13 miles or more, but you don't have to. If you can run or run/walk 10 miles, you should be able to safely and comfortably complete a half marathon.

Embrace a Conversational Pace

While training for a half marathon, your long runs and some of your shorter runs should be at an easy or "conversational" pace. This means that you should be able to breathe comfortably and carry on a conversation during those runs.

Don't worry about your pace per mile. If you can pass the "talk test", you're moving at the right speed. Although your training schedule may call for speedwork once or twice a week, doing your long runs and easy runs will help prevent overtraining and overuse injuries.

Long Training Runs May Get Boring

Half marathon training calls for weekly long runs. As the mileage gets longer, you may find that you get bored. This is a natural part of the running process.

Running with a group helps beat boredom on the long runs. You may also want to try some new routes for your long runs to mix things up. You'll probably also learn your own mental tricks that keep your mind active during long runs.

Chafing Can Happen

Chafing occurs when your skin rubs against fabric (or other skin) mile after mile for long periods of time. The result is a red, tender, mark that is sore and sensitive to the touch. Chafing most often occurs around the bra line (women), nipples (men), inner thighs, and under the arms.

When you're training for (and running) a half marathon, it is likely that skin somewhere on your body will chafe. To minimize or prevent chafing, wear running attire made of synthetic materials that wick moisture away.

Avoid cotton clothing because once it gets wet, it stays wet. In addition, cotton is a rough material and when it's constantly moving against your skin, it can rub your skin raw.

If clothing choices don't solve the problem, spread a thin layer of BodyGlide, Vaseline, or another lubricant on vulnerable areas.

Bad Weather Running May Be Necessary

It's fine to do some treadmill running while training for a half marathon, but you should do some of your runs outside. And since you never know what kind of weather you'll get on race day, it's good to do some running in less than ideal conditions.

If you run in some bad weather, you'll be more prepared and confident to handle anything that may come your way on race day. Get safety tips and motivation for running in the cold, heat, and rain.

Daily Running Is Not Required

Logging miles is obviously an important part of training for a half marathon, but doing too much can lead to injury and overall burnout. Rest days are important to anyone training for a half marathon and you should take at least one complete rest day per week.

You can also build fitness and reduce injuries with cross training. Cross training is any activity that compliments your running. Strength-training—especially exercises that build core and lower body muscle—can help prevent injury and will help your muscles fare better during long runs.

Other excellent cross-training activities for runners include swimming, cycling, elliptical trainer, water running, yoga, and Pilates.

Balanced Nutrition Is Key

You'll definitely burn a lot of calories during your half marathon training, but that doesn't give you license to eat and drink anything you want. Some half-marathoners-in-training learn this the hard way when they actually gain weight after a few months of training.

To avoid unwanted weight gain while training, figure out how many calories you need and focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet.

If you're trying to lose weight (or maintain your current weight), try keeping track of your exercise, food, and beverages in a journal. You'll get a more accurate picture of how many calories you're actually burning and taking in. And tracking everything will make you think twice before eating junk.

Injuries Are Possible

You're going to log a lot of miles during your half marathon training, so there's a chance that you will get a running injury. While you don't need to assume that you necessarily will get injured, it's important to stay aware of body signals that indicate something might be wrong.

Runners who think they won't get injured will often ignore injury warning signs, push through pain, and end up making injuries far worse.

Train In Your Race-Day Gear

"Nothing new on race day" should be a mantra to anyone who's training for a half marathon. Race day is not the time to experiment with a new pair of running shoes, running shorts, or a new sports bra.

You never know if your new running gear is going to chafe, feel too tight or too loose, or just generally uncomfortable. It's better to stick with the tried-and-true favorites that you know are comfortable.

Choose the outfit that you plan to wear on race day. Have a few options based on different weather conditions. Complete your long runs wearing this gear so that you know how your body will feel. Make adjustments if needed.

Bathrooms Are Available on Most Courses

Some runners worry that they'll have to go to the bathroom during the race and have to hold it for miles. Not to fear, there are almost always bathrooms available along the course. In most cases, you can find porta-potties near the water stops.

If you are unsure of bathroom availability or locations, check the course map prior to race day. Most will indicate where bathrooms, water stops, and other services are available.

Estimate Your Finish Time Before the Race

It helps to have a general idea of your expected finish time so you know where to line up and how to pace yourself on race day. There are different ways to estimate your finish time based on your running history. Use our pace calculator to help you prepare.

Many first-time half-marathoners plan on running the race at their long run pace. If you've done a shorter race recently, you can use that race time to give yourself a rough estimate of your half marathon pace.

Walking Is OK

Some beginners worry about having to take a walk break during a race because they think they'll look or feel like a failure. They equate walking with throwing in the towel. But there's no shame in taking a walking break!

Using a run/walk approach can be a very smart race strategy because it may help you avoid the muscle fatigue that can happen towards the end of the race. Some race participants find that taking short walk breaks helps them to achieve an overall faster race pace than if they tried to run the entire distance.

You Probably Won't Finish Last

If you've never participated in a half marathon, you may have an overwhelming fear that you'll be the last person to cross the finish line. Rest assured, this is not likely to happen.

If you're planning to run all or part of the race, you probably won't finish last because there are some people who choose to walk some or all of the course. And, even if you do finish last (or close to last), you should be proud to simply participate and complete the event. You're still ahead of all those people at home on their couches.

Practice Self-Care After the Race

Post-race recovery will determine well your body feels in the hours and weeks after your half-marathon. There are simple things you can do to help your muscles repair themselves after the long race.

First, after you cross the finish line, keep moving. You'll be tempted to sit down, but if you do, your body will get stiff. Instead, continue to walk at an easy pace. Grab water and other light post-race snacks. Visit the medical tent if necessary to address any injuries.

In the days after your half marathon, give yourself time to rest. But again, some moderate activity will help your body to heal. Participate in a stretching or yoga class, go for an easy bike ride, or hit the pool for a few leisurely laps. Light, full-body exercise will increase the range of motion in your joints and keep muscles supple.

Eventually, you'll want to hit the road again and start running. Start with an easy run and gradually increase mileage from there. You may even want to sign up for another race. Investigate new races and set new goals to keep your running program interesting and challenging.

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