The UtahRUNNING.com Expert Panel received a request to provide a list of “7 things to do before running a half marathon,” so that is what I originally set out to answer in this article. However, while running with the high school girls I coach and discussing this topic with them, they helped me realize seven tips were just not enough. In fact, they insisted that I list 13.1 tips for preparing to run a half marathon (makes sense, right?) Thanks, girls, for the inspiration and for making me laugh everyday!
13.1 Tips to Consider When Running a Half Marathon:
1) Train Smart. Be consistent and gradually build your mileage. Work in some interval workouts, tempo runs, and long runs into your training regime.
2) Keep It the Same. The week of the half marathon is not the time to try something new. Don’t change what has been working for you. Obviously, your workouts should be lighter, but you should still run the days that you normally run, stretch, eat relatively the same, etc.
3) Hydrate/Sleep. Besides keeping your routine the same, it is also a good idea to put extra focus on being well hydrated (urine should always be clear) and to get plenty of sleep in the weeks prior to your big race.
4) Plan for Your Race. Before race day arrives, work out the details of your race in your mind. Visualize it–your pace, when to make a move, and how you will handle tough spots in the race (hills, mile 9/10, etc.). Consider different scenarios and how you will react to each one. Come up with some things you could tell yourself or remind yourself of when the pain starts to set in and you need some inspiration. Decide when you are going to refuel and know where the aid stations are in your race (For example: “There is an aid station at mile 7. I’m going to plan on taking an energy gel just before I get there). The night before race day eat a solid meal (pasta, rice, potatoes…whatever works for you). Make sure you don’t eat too late. I like to eat around 5:30 or 6:00 the night before to give my food plenty of time to digest before I go to sleep. The best way to know what and when to eat is to try different strategies with your training runs so you know what will work for you on race day. Have all of your race gear (shoes, clothes, number, energy gels, etc.) ready to go the night before, so you aren’t rushed in the morning.
5) Control Your Nerves. It is perfectly normal to be nervous, but don’t let the nervousness consume you. I’ve been racing for a long time, and I still get nervous for EVERY single race! I believe it is my body telling me it is ready to compete. Recognize that you are nervous and then replace any doubts that you may have with reassuring thoughts. Have confidence in your training and in yourself.
6) Pre-Race Breakfast. Get in a good meal 2-3 hours before you race. I like to eat oatmeal and a banana or eggs and a piece of toast, but eat something that you know works with your stomach and will give you some energy going into your long race. Don’t forget tip 2!
7) Be Patient. Conserve Energy. At the beginning of your race, I think it is beneficial to start out conservative (especially if you are racing this distance for the first time). You should feel like you are holding back a little bit. Remember your race plan. Stick to it! Don’t worry about what other people are doing. A lot of people go out too hard, so don’t be concerned if you are passed by people at first. If you play it smart, they will come back to you. The best races I’ve ever run were when I negative split the race, meaning I ran the second half of my race faster than the first half. Keep your pace steady. Don’t yo-yo back and forth (speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down). Find a rhythm and lock your legs into a strong consistent pace.
8) Hydration/Fueling During Race. It is important to drink a little bit of fluid at each aid station and it is recommended to take an energy gel every 45-60 minutes of exercising. As I run through an aid station, I snatch the water/sports drink from the friendly volunteers and then I pinch the top of the cup so it creates a spout. This makes it easier to control how much fluid is going into your mouth, thus hopefully preventing any gagging or choking on the fluid. I like to alternate water at one aid station and then the sports drink at the next. It is best to drink water with an energy gel rather than a sports drink to avoid too much stress on your stomach.
9) Smaller Segments. Break your race into smaller chunks. I like to focus on one mile at a time, but find something that works for you. Maybe split your race into the first 5 miles, the second 5 miles, and the last 3.1 miles. It is a lot easier to wrap your mind around smaller distances, rather than try to tackle the 13.1 miles all at once.
10) Distractions. No matter what kind of shape you are in, the pain will find you. Prepare for it, plan on it, and in some sick way look forward to it. When this happens find a way to distract your mind from the pain. Focus on the beautiful canyon you are running through or the people that are cheering on the racers. Focus on chasing down that person ahead of you or making it to the next aid station. Ignore the pain!
11) Positive Self-Talk. I’m giving you permission to talk to yourself. Okay, maybe not out loud, especially if there are a lot of other racers around (they might think you are weird), but motivate yourself with positive self-talk. When you start to doubt your ability to keep the pace or even finish the race, this is the time to tell yourself those motivational thoughts that you planned to tell yourself (see tip 4). This is where you remind yourself of the time and effort you have put in to get where you are.
12) Make A Move. Don’t be afraid to change gears. After conserving energy for two-thirds to three-fourths of the race it is time to really push. If you can force yourself to pick up the pace, often times you will actually feel better. This is where you start to really race and chase people down. Go get ‘em Tiger!
13) Enjoy The Ride. Find joy knowing that you are healthy and have the ability to run. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to push your body to its limits. “Carpe diem!”
13.1) Don’t forget to… (You can’t expect a full tip here; I mean come on .1 is only a tenth of a mile).
by Janae Richardson – Runner | High School Cross Country & Track Coach