16 Things to Know Before Running a Half-Marathon

Congratulations, you've decided to run a half-marathon! Here are 16 things to know about training for and running a 13-mile event. Follow these tips to help you look like a seasoned half-marathoner and have a fantastic training and racing experience.

You Don't Have to Run 13.1 Miles in Training

Man training for a half-marathon outside
Smederevac / Getty Images

If you are new to running, you might assume that you need to run the full race distance (or beyond) during your half-marathon training 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 a 10-mile distance, you should be able to safely and comfortably complete a half-marathon.

Plan Your Training Schedule in Advance

Plan out your half-marathon training schedule in advance so you can ensure you are covering all of your bases. A good training plan will have short runs, long runs, cross-training, and rest days so you are ready mentally and physically to avoid burnout and injuries.

You can plan your workouts according to what works best with your schedule, but here is an example of a half-marathon training schedule:

  • Monday: Rest day
  • Tuesday: Run 2 to 4 miles at a moderate pace.
  • Wednesday: Cross-training day (biking, swimming), strength training, or rest day as needed
  • Thursday: Run 2 to 4 miles at a moderate pace
  • Friday: Cross-training or strength training
  • Saturday: This is your long run day. Start at 3 miles and work your way up to 12 miles, adding one additional mile each week.
  • Sunday: Active recovery day, in which you do a short run, run/walk combination, or cross-train.

Embrace a Conversational Pace

While training for a half-marathon, your long runs (and some of your shorter ones) 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. These 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. But don't depend on music, because you may not be able to use headphones or ear buds during your race.

Chafing Happens

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 for women and nipples for men as well as the 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 be irritating. If clothing choices don't solve the problem, spread a thin layer of BodyGlide, Vaseline, or another chafing lubricant on vulnerable areas.

It's Important to Train in Bad Weather, Too

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

If you've trained in bad weather, you'll be more prepared and confident to handle anything that may come your way on race day. Be sure to get safety tips 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 is important for anyone training for a half-marathon. You should take at least one complete rest day per week. This is why planning a training schedule is important.

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

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

Focus on Balanced Nutrition and Hydration

You'll definitely burn a lot of calories during your half-marathon training, but that doesn't give you a 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 your body needs while training, and focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Eat about three hours before the run a meal with carbohydrates to keep your energy levels high. Bananas or granola bars are two great options. Don't eat right before your run. After your run, fuel up on food with protein and carbohydrates, such as a turkey wrap or a smoothie with protein powder.

It is important to drink enough water to avoid symptoms of dehydration that can include feeling sluggish, getting a headache, or muscle cramps. Before the half marathon, make sure you drink 6 to 8 ounces so you are hydrated. During the run, you should drink about 4 to 6 ounces about every 15 to 20 minutes. After the run, continue to drink fluids. You can drink water or sports drinks that contain electrolytes.

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 will get injured, it's important to stay aware of body signals that indicate something might be wrong. It's much better to stop running and treat an injury early, so you don't lose too much training time.

Common running injuries include shin splints, knee pain (runner's knee), and heel pain or plantar fasciitis. Make sure you are doing a warm-up before you run, followed by a cool down with stretches after you run to prevent injury. Ensure you are wearing the correct type of shoes. You may consider getting a shoe fitting at a running store. This will help prevent overuse injuries.

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

You Should 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 sports bra, or food or drink you haven't sampled before.

You never know if your new running gear is going to chafe, feel too tight or too loose, or just generally be uncomfortable after the first few miles. 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 will be available.

You Can 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. Try using our pace calculator to help you prepare.

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

Pick the Right Type of Race

Road races are the most popular type of races, as they are the traditional half marathon which is on asphalt or concrete. These types of races allow you to focus on factors like speed, pace, and finish time. 

Trail races are typically done on natural terrain, which means you are running on soil, grass, or rocky ground. You may be running on a mountain trail. There typically isn’t as much focus on pace or finish time. The ground in trail runs is often softer, which allows for less stress or pounding on your joints versus asphalt, however, you must be aware of tripping or twisting an ankle on loose rocks or sticks.

If you want a fun and upbeat vibe, you can also look for half marathons that have live music, such as the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series. If you need some extra motivation, look for half marathons that allow you to run for a charity or a cause you are passionate about.

Post-Race Recovery Is Just as Important as Training

Post-race recovery will determine how 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 some moderate activity will help your body to heal. Take 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.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Blagrove RC, Howatson G, Hayes PR. Effects of strength training on the physiological determinants of middle- and long-distance running performance: A systematic review. Sports Med. 2018;48(5):1117-1149. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7

  2. Wiewelhove T, Schneider C, Döweling A, et al. Effects of different recovery strategies following a half-marathon on fatigue markers in recreational runners. PLoS ONE. 2018;13(11):e0207313. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0207313

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.