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The Top Dos & Don'ts of Running Your First Half Marathon

Shiloh London

In 2010, I ran my first half marathon in Sacramento, CA.  Since then, I’ve run 36 half marathons.  My goal: 40 before I turn 40!  Over those 471.6-ish miles I’ve learned a lot can go wrong.    With a little over 9 weeks left before my 37 th half marathon, I thought I would share mistakes that I made and tips on how to avoid them.

Don’t: Wing it

Do: Plan the work, work the plan

The first time I ran a Half was the first time I had ever run 13.1 miles.   The longest run I had under my belt was a whopping 8 miles.  EIGHT.  Don’t do that. Let me tell you about the struggle that ensued around mile 10.   Adrenaline can only take you so far. It takes you to mile 10 and then you hate everyone and everything and you want to die. Respect the distance. Most beginner training plans will have you run anywhere from 10-12 miles as your longest run leading up to a half marathon.

Don’t: Buy anything new FOR race day

Do: Try out new clothes, shoes, fuel, hydration belts, etc. on longer runs before the race.

If you and your friends plan to wear matching outfits (because #RunMatchy™), wear the shirt, socks, tank top, skirt, or tutu on an 8-10 mile run before race day.  You don’t want to be stuck at mile 7 with chaffing so bad that you have to walk it in.

Don’t: Eat pizza, nachos, or a cheeseburger the night before a big race

Do: Eat a healthy, simple dinner

Burgers and pizza are amazing, no judgement.  But when it comes to fueling your body to run 13.1 miles, keeping things clean (aka plain) is a solid idea. Skip the French Fries. And the beer (don’t hate me). 

Don’t: Drink a gallon of water the night before the race to “hydrate”

Do: Drink plenty of water throughout the week leading up to race day

I’m not the best water drinker in the world (I’m much better mimosas drinker), but I can tell you that I’ve noticed a HUGE difference when I’m diligent about increasing my water intake in the several days (4-5) leading up to the race.

Don’t: Rely only on fuel provided on the course (unless you’ve used it in your long runs)

Do: Have a plan for race fueling

If the idea of “fueling” during a race is foreign to you, don’t worry.  My first few half marathons I didn’t consume anything but water.  Partly I was scared that I’d get sick, but mainly because I never practiced fueling at all.   13.1 miles is a long time to go without fuel – no matter what pace you are running/walking.  Water and electrolytes are important to replenish.  Even with cooler temps in SF, it’s easy to get dehydrated or low on energy.   I’ve tried a lot of different options: Gu, Clif Shot Energy Gel, Huma.  It’s all about trial and error. Find one you like. Do what works for YOU.

Don’t: Wait until the morning of the race to get your life together

Do: Lay out your gear the night before and think about your race plan

You’re already up ridiculously early on race day (but first, coffee), don’t expect yourself to Adult that much.  Lay out your race gear the night before. People in the running community call this a “Flat Runner” (#FlatRunner on Instagram ).  Yeah it looks cool in a picture but it’s also an easy way to make sure you aren’t missing anything (Garmin, shoes, shorts, sports bra, socks).  Also, consider taking a moment to think about what your plan is for race day.  Will you run with a pace group? Will you run a mile and then walk a mile?  Will you sprint 3 miles and then… (no don’t do that). Do you have mantra that you will repeat to yourself when things get tough out there? (Mine is here .) Have a goal in mind but be kind to yourself. You don’t know what you don’t know and your first Half is a chance to learn. You cross the finish line screaming, “I’m never doing this again!” and then the next day you’re Googling “half marathons near me” because NOW you know what you know!

Don’t: Run someone else’s race

Do: Run your race, Run your pace

Look, this happens to all of us.  The roar of the crowds, the cheers of adoring fans, the thought of beating all those elite runners that start at the front of the line…. DON’T DO IT.  If you ran all of your long training runs at a 9:00min pace, please don’t run the first 3 miles at a 7:20min pace.   It will catch up to you and you will not have a nice race.  After 36 marathons, I still start most races with a pace group. It forces me to control my pace and not go out too fast.  Run your race, run your pace.

And finally….

Don’t: Wear the race shirt on race day

Do: Wear your favorite orange and black/SF Giants running gear

I know the Giant Race shirt we receive during the Expo is super RAD. But, this is the cardinal rule of running races. S.F. Giants fans don’t do the wave and runners don’t wear race shirts on race day. You haven’t EARNED that shirt, yet.  Just like the medal that they give you at the finish line, the shirt is supposed to signify to people that you RAN the race.  Plus, do you know what it feels like to run 13.1 miles in that shirt? Nope.  Wear it during your post-race bRUNch. Wear it with pride.  Heck, wear your medal to get pancakes.  I support you.

See you out there!

– Shiloh London, @heelsontherun 
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