Half marathon race day tips for your first ever 13.1 miles distance

Andy Beal Half Marathon

Back in June I ran my first ever 5K race. I learned a lot.

This past weekend, I ran my first half marathon–13.1 miles in case you’re wondering–and learned some extra lessons specific to endurance running distances.

Your first half marathon will be the hardest

Even though I spent 12+ weeks training for the half marathon, it was all still very new to my body. Unless you spend months running similar distances, your body will not like having to run such a long way. However, it will do it if you push it. I had previously maxed out at 10.5 miles and never felt happy running that distance. I did so just a few times in order to complete this goal. If I decide to run a half marathon again it will be when my body tells me it can do so easily.

Your body heats up like a frozen meal in a microwave

The temperature at the 7am start was around 38F. It was cold! I bought a cheap space blanket online and used it to keep me warm while I waited to start. I had thought about wearing long pants and various upper layers, but glad I didn’t. By about mile 2, I was sweaty and warm.

Use plenty of mind tricks while you run

I used plenty of mental games to get me through the race. I used distance compartmentalization. “3 miles down? That’s basically 1/4 of the way!” “Mile marker 10? Just a 5K left to run!” I reminded myself that this is what I trained for. I pictured myself passing the finish line. I even told myself that I would reward myself with either a Chargrill or Bojangles lunch!

Your mind will use its own tricks on you

“You can’t make it, better give up.” “Take the 10K turn off, why bother running further?” “We’re running right by our car! Why not just drive the rest of the way?” Those are all mind-tricks my mind, in turn, played on me. Thankfully I had seen plenty of memes that warned me that your mind will try to convince you to give up. Don’t listen to it!

You really don’t need to bring water & gels

I did bring my own water and gels, but the race was so well organized that every 2 miles they had water and Gatorade stations. Unless the weather is extremely hot and assuming you’re already well hydrated, you can easily run without carrying your own fuel supplies.

Don’t watch your watch at the end

I love my Garmin watch and the amazing race analytics it provides. However, I overheard a photographer lament that too many finish-line photos include runners looking down at their watch and hitting the stop button as they cross the finish line. I had been guilty of that in a previous 4-miler. This time I crossed the finish line sporting to shakas and a big grin. The watch could wait 3 more seconds.

The hardest distance is the finish line to the car

How did I just RUN 13.1 miles but barely walk back the 1/2 mile to where my car was parked? I could bore you with the science, but just trust me that it will happen. Try and stretch soon after you finish and drink plenty of fluids–I even had a chocolate milk they were handing out. Expect a slow walk to your car. Better yet, have someone drop you off and pick you up, or use Uber.

You will be hungry afterward

My Garmin watch estimated that I had burned nearly 2,000 calories during my run. That doesn’t even take into account the 45 minutes standing in the pre-race cold! I decided there was no shame in indulging in Bojangles (darn those mind games!) After all, my body needed refueling with carbs and protein, right?

You will want to tell the world

We all want to share our accomplishments with others. What’s the point of running 13.1 miles if you don’t get to post selfies of your medal on social media? Enjoy it. Embrace it. You earned it. Heck, I even found myself walking around the runners’ village, post-race muttering under my breath, “Hey y’all, I just ran a half-marathon.”

It will hurt

As I said before, unless you’ve run plenty of half-marathons, your body will hurt from head to toe later that day. And the next day. And the next day. What helped me? Stretching. An epsom salt bath. Plenty of fluids. Liberal arnica gel. And a 90-minute massage. Oh, and I also slept 10.5 half hours that night.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Please consider sharing them to help others!

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