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, so you can look like a seasoned half-marathoner and have a fantastic race experience.

You don't have to run 13 miles before the actual race.

runner in park
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Many beginner runners assume that they need to run at least the race distance or beyond to be ready for the race. To be physically prepared for the race, you don't have to run 13.1 miles before race day. If you can run or run/walk 10 miles, you should be able to safely and comfortably complete a half marathon.

You need to embrace conversational pace.

runner with hat
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While training for a half marathon, your long runs and most of your shorter runs should be at an easy or "conversational" pace. You should be able to breathe very easily 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.

The long runs may get boring.

Man jogging in the rain
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Half marathon training calls for weekly long runs and, as the mileage gets longer, you may find that you get bored. 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. Here are some other mental tricks to try during the long runs.

Chafing will happen.

Chafing is caused by repeated motion -- specifically, skin rubbing against loose fabric or other skin. And when you're training for and running a half marathon, there’s a lot of skin rubbing happening. To prevent inevitable chafing, wear running attire made of synthetic materials that wick moisture away. Don't wear 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.

You should also spread a thin layer of BodyGlide, Vaseline, or other lubricant on vulnerable areas. Chafing most often occurs around the bra line (women), nipples (men), inner thighs, and under the arms. Get more tips to prevent chafing.

You'll have to train in some bad weather.

feet running on snow

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.

You don't have to run every day.

Woman doing push-ups on a bench
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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 a week. You can also build fitness and reduce injuries with cross training, which is any activity that supplements your running. Strength-training, especially your core and lower body, will help you become more injury-resistant and improve your strength for the long runs. Other excellent cross-training activities for runners include swimming, cycling, elliptical trainer, water running, yoga, and Pilates.

You're not going to be able to eat whatever you want.

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 couple months of 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.

You may get injured.

ankle injury
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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. It's better to assume that you will get injured so you'll be more aware when your body is signaling that something is 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.

You probably won't finish last.

If you've never participated in a half marathon before, you may have an overwhelming fear that you'll be the last person to cross the finish line. If you're planning to run all or part of the race, you most likely won't finish last since there will be some people walking some or all of the race. And, even if you do finish last or close to last, be proud of being out there and crossing the finish line at all! You're still ahead of all those people at home on their couches.

You should practice running in your race outfit.

runners on training run

"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 your tried-and-true favorites that you know are comfortable.

There will be some bathrooms on the course.

portable toilet
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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 will be bathrooms along the course. In most cases, you can find porta-potties near the water stops.

You should have at least a rough idea of your estimated finishing time.

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It helps to have a general idea of your expected finish time so you know where to line up and how to pace yourself. Many first-time half-marathoners may 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. Here's how to estimate your half marathon time.

You don't have to run the entire time.

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 waking with throwing in the towel. There's no shame in taking a walking break! In fact, using a run/walk approach can be a very smart race strategy because it may help you avoid the muscle fatigue that often happens towards the end of races. Some race participants find that taking short walk breaks actually helps them achieve an overall faster race pace than if they tried to run the entire distance.

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