10 Tips for Your First Half Marathon

Happy New Year’s Eve! Today has been such a great day. I got to hang out with Lisa (who is even more gorgeous in person, if that’s possible) and Kacy (whose blog I just discovered and love) and I got to eat at 105 Degrees. I’m in love with all three after today. But more on that later. Today, Lee is handling the posting.


Hello, A Foodie Stays Fit readers.  My name is Lee and I blog at In My Tummy.  Despite my blog name, I write about a lot more than just food.   One of those things is running.

In the Spring of 2005, I could run 3 miles at most.  By fall of that year, I’d completed my first race, a half-marathon.  Go big or go home, right?   I’m not saying that running 13.1 miles for your first race experience or even at all is the right thing for everyone, but I do strongly believe that everyone can run a half-marathon if he or she wants to.

At the time, I was active on a fitness-related message board and several members were big runners.  It was the first time that I’d really ever considered doing a race of any distance.  I looked at beginner training plans and realized that most of them started out with a long run of four miles.  I told myself that once I was able to run four miles, I would be able to start a training plan and I could really do this.

I am not a natural athlete by any means. I’m slow and clumsy and my running form is all off.  But what I do have is determination and I think that is key to training for a big race.  There is a reason that Nike’s slogan is “Just Do It.”  Training for a race is as much mental as it is physical if not more so.

Sometimes reading about other people’s training makes racing seem really intimidating.  Will I be running every day?  Do I need fancy gadgets?  What on earth is a fartlek?

This March,  I will be running my eighth half-marathon.
Every time I cross the start line of another race, I’m surprised that I’m there.  I am still slow and clumsy.  I still have awful form.  But I’m still there at that start line and you better believe that I’m going to cross that finish line.

I know that doing a half-marathon is a big 2011 resolution for some people, so here are…

The Top Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I Ran My First Half Marathon

1.  First things first, I believe that before you find a training plan, you should be able to run 3 miles pretty comfortably.  I like to use a 12 week training plan and recommend Hal Higdon’s novice plan.  For my first race, I just wanted to finish.   Hal’s (he and I are apparently on a first name basis!) novice plan is great because there’s no fancy stuff.  It focuses entirely on mileage with some cross training thrown in the mix. [Runners World also has a helpful training plan tool.]

2.  Once you have picked out your plan, you don’t have to follow it religiously
.  That two mile run that you are supposed to do on Tuesday can be done on Thursday instead.

3.  You are allowed to walk! I do a 9:1 running to walking ratio when I’m on the treadmill.  Meaning, I run 9 minutes and then walk 1.  Walking is not giving up.  I find that this helps me get through long treadmill runs but I don’t need to do it outside.

4.  Use your long runs to figure out what works for you, food and hydration-wise. Personally, I bring water if I’m running more than six miles and some sort of food if I’m running more than seven.  I like to use GU but that’s just my personal preference.

5.  Trust your training plan. Most do not have you run the full half-marathon amount before the race.  The most that I’ve ever run in training is 10.5 miles.  You will be able to run 13.1.

6.  Sometimes runs just suck. It happens.  You can run eight miles one day and it’ll feel easy as pie and then a two mile run a couple days later feels like torture.  When I’m having a bad run, I tell myself that the next run has to be great since this one was so bad.

7. On the day of the race [and I would add, and the day before the race – Teri now butting out], don’t do anything differently than you’ve been doing. Don’t buy a new outfit or eat or drink something different.

8.  If you listen to music while you run, which I do, make sure you charge your ipod!

9. If you have friends in the area, it helps SO much if they stand along different parts of the course.  When you feel like you want to quit, it really helps to know that your friend is going to be there at the next mile.

10. Enjoy yourself! This is your first half marathon.  No matter what your time is, you’re going to set a personal record.  It’s going to be hard, even if you walk the entire thing, 13.1 miles is no joke.   But crossing that finish line will be worth it.

Maybe it’s because it was my first race, but the half-marathon is my favorite distance.  I hope that some of you will be able to experience it for the first time this year too.

Thanks Teri, for letting me guest post!


Thank you, Lee, for writing such a helpful post!

For those of you that have raced, what’s your #1 tip for races of any distance? (You can repeat a tip if you agree!) My advice to someone is for their first race, don’t worry about time – just enjoy it and aim to finish feeling strong. And never ever try anything new in the 48 hours before and the day of the race. I NEVER eat out the night before a race or wear new gear.

If you haven’t run a race, why not? Fear? No interest? Money?

HAPPY NEW YEAR’S EVE!!! Have fun and please be safe! Watch out for other crazy drivers and don’t be one yourself. xoxo

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  • Megan (Running Foodie)

    Such great advice, Lee! I especially agree with #4 – when I finally figured out my fuel/hydration strategy, running those longer distances was SO much easier!

  • Clare @ Fitting It All In

    Totally agree with everything on this post! A year ago I was a self proclaimed “non runner” yet decided to just start and train for a half.
    If I can do it, so can you!
    My tip would be that most of the “I want to quit” feeling is mental. Unless you are honestly physically hurting, you can push through! And you will feel SO GREAT afterward!

  • Elizabeth @ RunWithSneakers

    I agree with all of Lee’s tips but the tip I give to most newbies is the same as Lee’s #5: Trust your training plan. While training for my first half I kept second-guessing my training plan — to the point where it was getting silly. Pick a good training plan (I also like using Hal Higdon), use it, and be confident that a professional knows what they are doing (for goodness sake.)

  • Faith @ lovelyascharged

    Thank you for the article – I really hope 2011 is going to be the year I get serious with my running; I’ve been doing it casually for about 3 years but I havent made any real progress lately, and I want to run a 5k this year! The only reason I haven’t thus far is because I’m a slowpoke and want to get my time under 30 minutes before I do it!

    • erin

      Don’t hold out until you are under 30 min…I have run 6 5ks and all are over 30 min…the most amazing feeling is crossing the finish line and it will become addicting!! Good luck!

  • Kelly

    I agree mostly with all that, but I think you have to learn what’s right for you too. For instance, I’ve eaten out many times before a half marathon, especially when I’m running in a race that is out of town. I completely agree with not setting a time goal for your first race. You will most likely be faster when racing because of all those endorphins (I always am). You have to figure out what your body will do in a race before you can set goals for yourself.

  • Liz @ iheartvegetables

    Alright I’m BOOKMARKING this page!!! My 2011 goal is to run a half marathon!!! These tips are perfect, thanks so much!

  • Lauren

    Last year running a mile was a struggle for me but I trained for and completed my first half marathon in October and I rocked it!! My advice is to listen to your body.

  • Kacy

    Great tips! I think my number one would be not stressing the night before. You probably won’t sleep much, but you’ll be fine if you’ve been getting sleep the rest of the week. Just have fun! It will almost definitely be more fun and go better than you ever could have imagined!

  • Ashley

    Hi Teri, I just discovered your blog & I love it! Your pup is adorable! I have run 13 half marathons and I have used Hal Higdon’s training guide ( for all of my races. He offers different training schedules for various fitness levels & I think they are all spot-on. I 100% agree with Lisa’s tips though, especially to just enjoy your first race! 13.1 miles is a huge accomplishment so even if you don’t get your goal time in your first race you should still be proud of your efforts! Also, pick new routes to run for your longer days. Perhaps drive to a new area that is scenic and shaded for your long runs and enjoy the change of scenery. I always do this for my weekend runs & it seems to make the miles pass quicker! Hope this helps! 🙂
    P.S. I would also invest into a Garmin. Those watches are the jam!

  • Ally

    Great tips! I just ran my first 1/2 a couple of months ago…my biggest piece of advice (Lee mentioned) running isn’t just physical. It’s totally a mental thing to!! I just talked my sister-in-law into running her first 1/2 with me in April. I am going to send her these tips 🙂

  • BroccoliHut

    Perfect timing! I just signed up for my first half this April. Thanks so much for the tips!

  • Greg

    I completed my first (and only) half marathon several years ago using this exact same philosophy. My hope was to just finish, so I can relate. Kudos to you!

  • Trisha

    I love this! One of my goals this year is to run my first half. I’ve done several triathlons and smaller races, but I’m ready to conquer this one! Thanks for the tips – they are definitely helpful!

  • erin

    thank you for these tips…I am signed up for my first 1/2 in May..YAY!!

  • LauraJayne

    I am actually training for my first half-marathon right now – so this was totally helpful! Great guest post!

  • Vanessa J

    great tips and motivation for my first half marathon on May 6th, Toronto. Thanks!

  • TJ Belasco

    Running my first half marathon tomorrow. I am both nervous and excited. I made my goal just to finish and savor the run. I will update how it goes.