10 Tips for Running Your First Half Marathon

Crystal Jackson

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It may seem intimidating to start training for a half marathon. After all, we’re talking about 13.1 miles. When we have more sedentary lives, a half marathon may feel like an impossible goal. It certainly did to me.

I used to be a runner--in the far distant past. I ran track meets for short sprints and for a single mile. Fast forward to my thirties with two children, and I wasn't exactly in the same shape I was as a teenager. Far from it!

I had spent much of my twenties sitting through college classes and doing office work, and I had the extra weight to prove it! Even thinking of a 5K seemed daunting. Where could I even begin?

Try a program like Couch-to-5K.

Sometimes, to get started, we need to find a program to guide us. I tried to do the Couch-to-5K after hearing friends rave about it. It got me started, but it didn't end up working for me. I would start and stop, then start and stop again.

It didn't work for me, but instead of throwing in the towel and giving up on my dream to start running again, I considered taking what I learned from that experience and trying to customize a workout routine that worked better for me.

Register for a race--any race.

The first step in my training was to go ahead and register for a race. I chose my first 5K for a date that was a mere three weeks away. I didn’t want to give myself time to get complacent or try to weasel out of it. The date was approaching, and I had to start training immediately.

Scheduling a race gives us an end date rather than a vague time in the future. Having a deadline can be a motivating factor--especially if we've paid for registration.

Take it at your own pace.

My plan was to do the full 3.1-mile distance every time I trained, which was 2–3 times a week. I started out doing more walking than running. In fact, the first time, I mostly walked. It took almost an hour.

Each time I trained, I tried to run a little more than I had the last time. Eventually, I was able to run more than I was walking. I was able to finish my first 5K, although I made a few rookie mistakes.

When you're running your first race, don't compare yourself to others.

It can be tempting to try to keep up with the fastest runners at the start of the race. We have to remember that it’s not a sprint. Don’t burn out all of your energy at the beginning of the race.

Also, take it slow, and don’t compare yourself to others, or you’ll get upset every time a small child or little old man passes you without even seeming short of breath. All that matters for that first race is that we finish it.

I completed several 5K races before I was ready for anything else. In fact, I also worked in obstacle courses and mud runs to keep it interesting. I kept training, running 2–3 times a week, between races. Eventually, I started wondering if I should sign up for a 10K or a half marathon.

Never being one to do things halfway, I chose a half marathon race that interested me. It had a chocolate theme, and it was to be held around Valentine’s day. That locked me in for Valentine’s plans in my single state, and it was guaranteed chocolate. I registered, and I started to train.

Customize your training to your time and fitness level.

I couldn’t approach this training the same as the 5K. I couldn’t do 13 miles every single time I trained. I just didn’t have that amount of time. But I did start with 3 miles (a 5K).

Then I added a mile.

Then I added another.

I would run, on average, 5–7 miles about 3 times a week. Again, I started out walking more than I was running. Eventually, I was able to increase the amount of time I was running.

Cross-train.

Running as training is great--but it's also important to cross-train. Add in swimming, cycling, weight lifting, barre classes, pilates, or yoga. Mix it up to get a stronger workout, and it will positively impact your run. Don't feel like you have to go overboard, but do work in the occasional other fitness option.

Work in recovery days.

Running every day or for increasingly long distances can put a lot of wear and tear on your body--particularly as a new runner. When training, it's important to work in recovery days--the days where we do a light exercise and the days that we do nothing at all.

Eat well and often.

Curiously, when I began to run, my appetite disappeared at first. I had to make myself take breaks to eat meals and snacks to keep up my energy. But regardless of how our appetites are impacted, we need to make sure that we are eating regularly for optimal health.

Get advice from more experienced runners.

After about a month of running at least three times a week for 5-7 miles at a time, I tried my first half marathon in training. I made it, but it was tough. I sought advice from more experienced runners.

They all said to purchase energy gels to renew my energy while running. I made sure, as advised, to take them with water. This kept my stomach full so that I didn’t have hunger pains during my run, and it also kept me a little more hydrated.

It was also recommended that I get good running shoes and compression socks. I took all of this advice to heart, and it certainly helped.

After completing that first half marathon, I tried another one a couple of weeks before the big day. My performance was much better after all of the advice. On the day of the half marathon, I had my shoes, my compression socks, my energy gels for the run, and a determination to do my very best.

Remember it’s not about winning.

If we go into it trying to set records or come in first in our age category the first time we run, we may end up being disappointed when we're thoroughly trounced by a more experienced runner. I didn’t even try to run the whole time. I alternated running and walking throughout my first half marathon.

Not only did I finish the race, but I also finished in the best time I’ve ever had. I was able to sit down to hot chocolate and other delicious snacks immediately following the race. I had a swag bag complete with a mug, a shirt, and a medal I could proudly display in my growing collection. I took a few scented wipes to clean up before my drive home so that I felt somewhat refreshed.

I’d completed a half marathon, even though a few short months before I questioned that I could.

We are capable of so much more than we know. So often we get in our own way by not even trying, by giving into our resistance and fear rather than taking a chance. We assume we can’t do it because we’re afraid of finding out that we’re right.

It isn’t about our time or how we measure up to anyone else. That first race is all about finishing. It isn’t impossible.

We just have to begin.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA
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