minutes per mile blog

training tips for your first half marathon

Hello and happy Friday! I realized this week that although I’ve written about half marathon hacks and first-time full marathon tips, I’ve never written about first-time half marathon tips. So when a reader emailed me asking for training advice for her first half marathon, I thought it was time to sit down and dedicate a post to it. After running 14 half marathons I guess I have a few notes to share.
Here are five that come to mind!

1. Make your longest long run 12 miles. It seems to me like a lot of first-time half marathoners only train up to 10 miles (as recommended by the famous Hal Higdon Novice 1 training program). My advice would be to make your longest long run at *least* 11 miles — ideally 12. If you only run 10 miles, those last three on race day are going to be really tough. There’s a difference between being unprepared for 7% of the race and being unprepared for a full 23% of it :)0703150740b2. Figure out your nutrition & gear. The last thing you want to happen on race day is to crash and burn because you ran out of energy, got sick to your stomach, or got a big blister thanks to new pair of shoes. Treat your long training runs as “dress rehearsals” for race day, and decide what works best for you in terms of wardrobe, nutrition (i.e. what to eat the night before your run, what to eat during your run, and how to refuel after), hydration, and shoes. Don’t try anything new on race day. Running is a simple sport if you take the time to figure out how to keep your body moving comfortably :)huma gu energy gels3. Stick to your training plan. I suppose the pre-tip to this tip is to make sure you actually have a training plan — there are hundreds available for free online if you need one! Once you have a training plan, you’re going to need to stick to it. I’ve seen a lot of runners ditch their weekday runs and walk into a race completely unprepared. A less common but even more dangerous issue is over-training by running too many miles and not resting. Over-trainers often won’t even make it to the start line because of injury.

4. Educate yourself on elevation. I’ve run more than 30 races in my day (because I guess I’m insane) and no matter what race I run I alllllwwaaaays hear people complain about one thing over and over: hills. It’s like people expect the world’s geography to change on race day or something. I don’t understand. If a hill exists on your race route, it will still exist on race day. My tip: learn how to read elevation maps to get a sense of what to expect. To do this, look at the elevation profile of your course and then compare it to the elevation of hills in your neighborhood. For example, I know what running that “the nasty” hill of East Nashville feels like, and MapMyRun (and Garmin data) shows that the steep, short hill is about a 100-foot incline over 0.3 miles. If I sign up for a race that has a 150-foot incline over 0.3 miles, at least I’ll know in advance that it will be absolutely horrible. (DC readers, here’s the famous Calvert hill climb of the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA half). Another idea: run a race in the town you live in or get to a destination race a day early so that you can go actually see the hills for yourself.Capture15

5. Start out slow on race day. A classic mistake among first-time racers (and even among experienced racers!) is going out too fast. Race day is pretty exciting and endorphins are high — but instead of burning that energy on the first two miles, save it for the last two instead. When I’m at the start line, I try to imagine myself back at home going out for a normal weekday jog. Take it slow.downhill_at_dawn_half_marathon

What tips do you have to share? Let me know in the comments!

4 thoughts on “training tips for your first half marathon

  1. Thanks for the tips!! I’m actually following the Hal Higdon one right now with my boyfriend and he wondered if 10 miles was long enough.

  2. My biggest training tip would be to actually TRAIN! It blows my mind how many people say “I’m going to run a half-marathon” or even worse, “I’m going to run a marathon” … But then they never actually train for it!

  3. Thanks for these tips! My first half is going to be Zooma Nashville! I didn’t see an elevation map on the website and I’m not from the Nashville area can you give me some insight on how hilly the race will be?? Thanks so much!

    • That’s odd that they didn’t include an elevation map. Maybe I’ll do the route in the next few weeks and upload my Garmin stats! It’s impossible to make a route in Nashville without hills so this one is actually pretty good. Shelby Park is pancake flat. The hills will be at mile 1 (pedestrian bridge – short and steep) and 11-12 (woodland street bridge & union street – long and gradual). See you there!!