13 Mistakes Half Marathoners Should Avoid

Tips for Half Marathon Training and Racing

There's a lot that could go wrong during half marathon training and racing. Here are some common mistakes that half marathoners make and tips on how to avoid them.


Don't run a half marathon as your first race.

marathon runners getting water and bananas from table

Frank and Helena / Cultura Exclusive / Getty Images

I always like to see runners complete a shorter race, like a 5K or a 10K, before moving up to the half marathon distance. Running 13.1 miles is enough of a challenge; you don't want to also be nervous about things like putting on your race bib, starting a race, using porta-potties, taking cups from the water stops, and dealing with crowded conditions for the first time.


Don't enter a race if you're not sure you can beat the cut-off time.

Some races have a cut-off time, a time limit by which all participants must have crossed the finish line. It's not fun participating in a race when you're constantly looking over your shoulder, worrying about getting picked up by the sweep bus. If you think you're in danger of not finishing before the time limit (often 3 hours for half marathons), look for a half marathon that's friendly to slower runners and walkers -- there are plenty of half marathons in that category. Some half marathons are run at the same time as a full marathon, so half marathoners are given six hours (or more) to cross the finish line.
Also see: How Strict Are Race Cut-off Times?


Don't forget to hydrate.

I talk to a lot of runners who've run 5K races and never hydrated during their races or training runs. For a short distance race, you might be able to get away with not drinking anything, but for a half marathon, you really need to make sure you're hydrating properly. The current advice about running and hydration is very simple -- try to drink to thirst. (And during long runs and your half marathon, you're going to get thirsty.) Also, make sure you're rehydrating after your runs -- you'll know you're hydrated if your urine is a light yellow color.
Also see: Running and Hydration


Don't give up.

It takes time to get ready for a half marathon, and there will definitely be points in your training when your motivation may start to fade. There may be some days when you don't feel like running and you'll have an excuse for not running. Fight the temptation to skip it, and focus on your goal of running your half marathon. The "don't give up" advice also applies to the race itself. There may be moments during the race when you feel like calling it a day, but you'll need to dig deep, stay mentally tough, and push to the finish.
Also see: Tips for Staying Motivated to Run


Don't be unprepared for your long runs.

Your long runs are an important part of your half marathon training, so you should do what you can to make sure they go well. That means eating and drinking properly in the days leading up to your long run, getting a good night's sleep beforehand, and hydrating and fueling properly during your run.
Also see: Tips to Make Your Long Runs Easier


Don't ignore pain.

Don't assume that pain is a normal part of half marathon training. Yes, you may feel some post-run muscle soreness, but pain that gets worse during your run or affects your running or walking gait is a signal from your body that something is wrong. Rest is usually the best treatment and taking some time off from running when an injury is in its early stages will prevent more time off later. If you keep pushing through it, the injury will most likely get worse or you could cause a completely new injury.
Also see: 7 Steps for Runner Injury Prevention
How to Self-Treat Running Injuries


Don't skip cross-training.

Logging miles is obviously an important part of training for a half marathon, but doing too much can lead to injury and overall burnout. 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.


Don't set a really aggressive goal (for your first half marathon).

Don't put pressure on yourself to achieve a really fast time for your first half marathon. You could be setting yourself up for disappointment. Completing a half marathon is an incredible goal and you don’t want to overshadow that by falling short of a time goal. Just focus on completing the 13.1 miles and crossing your first half marathon finish line!


Don't ignore rest days.

Rest days are when you do an easy cross-training activity or take a complete day off from running. Giving your body a break from the stress of running can reduce your risk of overuse injuries, such as shin splints and stress fractures. It's also good to take a mental break from running, so you don't lose motivation by running every day.
Also see: How to Avoid Overtraining


Don't cram for the final.

The two weeks before your half marathon is the tapering period, when you cut back your mileage by 25-50%, to give your body and mind a chance to rest, recover, and prepare for your half marathon. Some people are worried they'll lose fitness and they try to work out their nerves before the race by running too many miles, too fast. Stick to your training schedule and trust in your training and the taper.
What to Do the Day Before Your Half Marathon


Don't start out too fast.

When you begin your half marathon, you may be tempted to start out fast because you'll feel strong and rested. The problem with going out too fast is that you'll burn through a lot of your stored energy early in the race and your legs will feel fatigued much sooner. Try to start your half marathon at a comfortable pace and make sure you check your watch at the first mile marker. If you're ahead of your anticipated pace, slow down. It's not too late to make pace corrections after just one mile.
Also see: How to Avoid Starting Out Too Fast


Don't try out something new on race day.

Maybe you bought a cute new shirt at the race expo or you think using a new flavor of sports gel will give you an extra boost during your half marathon. Resist the temptation and keep telling yourself, "Nothing new on race day!" Race day is not the time to experiment with new foods at breakfast, a new pair of running shoes, running shorts, a new sports bra, or new nutrition or hydration. Stick to your tried-and-true favorites so there are no surprises on race day.
Also see: How to Dress for a Rainy Race
How to Dress for Hot Weather Running
How to Dress for Cold Weather Running


Don't discount your achievement.

With so much attention given to full marathons, some runners will brush off their half marathon finishes, saying, "I only did a half." Completing a 13.1-mile race is an incredible accomplishment, so don't sell yourself short. You're a half-marathoner -- be proud!
Also see: Half Marathon Recovery Tips
13 Things to Know Before Running a Half Marathon
10 Best Things About Half Marathon Running
7 Lessons Runners Learn the Hard Way

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