FitNess: Tips for Your First Half-Marathon (For Non-runners)

Let’s talk about half marathons.

One of my favorite posts I’ve ever created for Cookie Cutter Couture was The Cardinal Rules of Running. A runner’s guide, if you will. And while it’s slightly dated (iPods, anyone?), there is still so much to this list.

I recently created another list: What you need to know before your first half marathon. While the lists have some similarities, this one is truly for newbies looking into their first race.

Here’s what I share:

1. Stick to a training schedule.

For my first half marathon, I used Hal Higdon’s Novice training schedule. One of the things I love about his programs is how they are tailored. Not only can you pick a level that is appropriate for you (yes, even walkers!), it incorporates cross-training and encourages you to continue your other activities too. And, because it staggers the mileage, it’s easy to swap a 5 mile day for a 3 mile day to accomodate your schedule.

2. It’s okay to cross-train, too!

In order to stay motivated and engaged at the gym, I need a variety of workouts. What’s more: I think it’s beneficial too! Yoga can help stretch your muscles, and restore your range of motion. On the other hand, lifting can help strengthen your muscles, which has been shown to improve your running form and, most importantly, prevent injury from occuring. Finally, I also pepper in some spinning — especially when I want a hard workout without sacrificing my knees. This is particularly key if you’re looking to build your endurance.

3. Use your training to experiment.

Even though every program is different, the average individual should train for about 12 weeks, or 3 months, for a half marathon. This number, of course, also takes into account whether or not you’re currently running on a frequent basis. If this is your first half marathon, use this time to understand what works for your body — and more importantly, what doesn’t. This includes everything from your clothing to how certains meals impact your energy.

4. Learn how to fuel yourself.

In my first half marathon, I did not become introduced to energy chews or gels until just before my race. I did not have a lot of time to try different types of energy, how my body reacted, and a cadence to take them that worked for my body. Fortunately, my first go-to has actually been a favorite since. I love Gu Chews, which are compact and easy to carry.

5. Invest in proper running shoes.

Pronation. Supination. Neutral. If you don’t know what these terms mean, I highly suggest becoming acquainted in your quest for the perfect running shoes.

The reality is, you’ll be logging 15-25 miles per week during your training. Make sure to prevent injury by familiarizing yourself with your running stride, and finding shoes that will support you accordingly. Not sure? Try a proper running store! Not only can they help determine your stride, they’ll also be able to expose you to brands of shoes that might be otherwise new to you.

Be sure to swap out your gym shoes after 300 to 500 miles.

6. Train in all conditions.

Okay, okay… I’m incredibly guilty of this one. In fact, during my first half marathon I spent virtually the entire time in the gym on a treadmil. At the very least, you should know how your gear works in rain or shine.

7. Pick the right race for you.

When it comes time to picking The One, make sure to do your research. Every race is unique. Find something that will excite you. But, also look into the course itself. Do they have ample water stations? Are there massive hills or inclines you should be aware of? Are there stringent time limits? All of these details should be considered during your training.

8. Get a game plan ready.

As your race day nears, make sure to check and double-check all the details. Do you need to get a hotel nearby? How will you get there and where will you park? Know everything in advance so everything goes smoothly on the day of your race.

Usually, races will have an expo a day or two before the race. If you are doing a destination race, make sure to make your plans so you can attend that before the race. Try to limit the amount of walking the day before and conserve you’re energy.

On the night before, lay out your items and have everything (including your breakfast) ready to go. You’re probably not going to sleep well (who are we kidding?) but try to at least rest as much as you can.

Then, on the day of, don’t forget to make plans for DURING and AFTER the race. At what mile marker will your friends be at? (Busier races can get congested, so plan ahead so you know where to look.) Where will you meet your family or friends after? (You’ll go through an area where they’ll provide bananas or other snacks, take photos and more before you’re actually off the course itself.) These details can get lost in the shuffle of preparing for BEFORE the race.

9. But be flexible, and prepare for the unexpected.

Of course, as much as you plan away, there are always going to be unknown factors. I’ve been to a race that ran out of toilet paper. (I’ve put a tissue in my pocket ever since.) I’ve heard of one race running out of water. (Consider bringing a hydration backpack or water belt.) The list goes on and on. All you can do is prepare as much as possible, and then be willing to be flexible on the day of.

10. Have fun. (Seriously.)

It’s the big day. You have prepared for this for weeks, rain or shine. Motivated or not. You’ve put in the miles and now it’s time to achieve your goal. Sure, it’s a day with a super early morning. You’ll wonder why you signed up for this in the first place. But somewhere around mile 7 or 8, you realize you’re going to get it done. And there is nothing better than crossing that finish line. (Or eating pizza shamelessly later on.)