Tips to Live By

What I Wish I Knew Before Running My First Half Marathon

Jan. 13, 2020

By Lauren Brandom

I grew up dancing and playing sports, so I was always in pretty good shape. But when I left for college, I also left my organized sports teams and leagues behind. It didn't take me long to realize I needed to start actually "working out" if I was going to stay in shape.

I decided to run my first half marathon in 2016. Even though I didn't consider myself a "runner," it was always something I wanted to do — and it seemed like a good way to get back into shape. So, I found a training program and joined a running group.

If I'm being honest, I didn't really believe I could actually finish a half marathon. There were a lot of nerves and unknowns the days, weeks and months leading up to it. Looking back, I thought of a few things that I wish I had known before running my first half marathon.

Soak in the excitement when you pick up your packet

Even though I'd been training for months, it didn't really sink in that I was going to be running a half marathon until I picked up my race packet. You'd think getting my bib would make me even more nervous, but I actually left feeling more excited than anxious.

There were hundreds of people at registration expo — and everyone is a different age, shape and size. Being around so many other racers was the first time I started to believe, "Okay, I can do this, too." It was fun to be a part of this group of people all set on accomplishing one huge goal.

I really enjoyed the expo — which is a free event where you can walk around and buy running gear and apparel, grab product samples and meet famous runners or ask marathon experts questions. Don't skip it! It was really fun and it helped get me even more excited about the race.

Adjust your evening schedule the night before the race

While everyone's general evening routine is different, the night before the race should look about the same for everyone: It should start with an early dinner and end with getting in bed early.

For me, I try to eat a carb-heavy dinner fairly early — no later than 6 p.m. Then I take it easy for the rest of the evening, making sure I'm in bed by 9 p.m. at the latest.

Check the weather and plan accordingly

We all know how unpredictable the weather can be, especially in Houston. While it's good to keep an eye on the weather for the days leading up to the race, you absolutely need to check it the night before. It may change what you wear or what gear you use.

I always apply sunscreen, even if it might be cloudy or overcast.

And if it looks like it might be cold, I buy a cheap fleece blanket or sweatshirt to wear while I'm waiting at the starting line. I can usually find something warm for less than $5 — which is perfect, since I end up tossing it within the first mile of the race.

Plan your morning routine ahead of time

The morning of the race starts very early, so I try to get as much done the night before as I can.

I lay out my clothes and gear, and pin my race bib on my running top so that I don't have to mess with it in the morning.

I also plan my ride to the race. I usually carpool with friends who are also running, so the night before I double-check where we are meeting and at what time, as well as how we're getting there.

Try to start the race with a buddy

One of the best ways I've found to reduce my race-day jitters is to start the race with someone I've run with during training. I end up by myself at some point, of course, but by then my nerves have usually worn off.

It helps to pick a buddy who runs around the same pace as I do so I'm not tempted to run harder than I need to right from the get-go.

Your adrenaline will kick in early

There's usually so much spectator support at the starting line that it's hard not to let that energy explode out of you.

In fact, it was so energizing for me, I ran the first mile of the race faster than any of my training miles.

Don't get me wrong, I was super nervous. But the energy that comes from so many people cheering you on can channel your adrenaline and help you overcome any anxiety you may be feeling.

Don't forget to pack a snack

Even if you eat the right breakfast, you're going to need some extra fuel during the race. (Related: What Should I Eat Before Running a Marathon?)

You'll want to have some sort of carb-based snack to help keep up your energy. I usually rely on goo packets, which I buy at the expo.

But don't forget you'll need some way to carry your snacks. I wear leggings that have a decent-sized pocket, but you can also invest in a utility belt.

You'll make a friend or two along the way

During the race, you'll probably start to notice you're running with the same people. Don't be afraid to encourage them — and accept encouragement in return!

I've learned that the people running marathons and half marathons are always super friendly, so if you find yourself needing motivation or encouragement, don't be afraid to turn to your neighbor and start building a rapport.

If you hit a running block, distract yourself

At some point during the race, every runner hits "the wall."

The mid-point of the race is really hard for me, and I've found that distracting myself can help overcome my urge to stop running. Sometimes, setting small goals as simple as "Make it to that stop sign" or "Run through this song" are all I need to get back into the right mindset. Having a good music playlist helps, too.

Some races, like the Chevron Houston Marathon, have tons of spectators all along the route — and I also use them as distraction. From the clever and funny signs they hold to the high-fives and cheers they're readily giving out, spectators offer a great way to re-energize.

Crossing the finish line will be overwhelming — but worth it

I knew running a half marathon would be hard. And even after diligently training for months, I honestly didn't truly believe I could do it.

Crossing the finish line was so emotional for me that I cried.

I was so proud of myself. I had accomplished something that I didn't think I could, and it was a feeling I'd never felt before. It's also an amazing moment when you realize that your body can do way more than you think it can — if you have the right mindset.

Even after the initial rush of emotions faded, I was left feeling energized and excited, and I was immediately ready to sign up for another half marathon as soon as I finished.

(Related: Post-Race Recovery: How Active or Inactive Should You Be Afterwards?)

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Categories: Tips to Live By