It’s been more than a decade since I ran my first half-marathon, and it’s an experience I will never forget. Not just because of how great it was to cross that finish line for the first time, but also because it was one of the hardest experiences of my life up to that point. I made so many mistakes. I didn’t know what kind of traffic to expect, wasn’t aware of the weather changes, and I generally had no clue what I was doing.
There were a lot of rookie mistakes I read about and knew to avoid. I didn’t try anything new on race day. I carb loaded the night before. I reviewed the course, trained consistently, and felt mostly prepared. But there are some things even runners rarely talk about, and some lessons that you will only learn from actually racing. While I can’t adequately describe how hard it is to run a half-marathon for the first time, or keep you from making first timer mistakes, I can tell you a few things I wish someone had told me.
7 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Half-Marathon
- Dress for the finish line – Weather can be one of the least predictable aspects of racing, and it’s important to train in all sorts of weather for this reason. Race day could be cool and sunny, or freezing rain. And while you may be tempted to pick out clothes based on the starting time temps and conditions….don’t. Take some time to look for the predicted weather for the time you anticipate finishing. If the temps are going to jump up 20+ degrees (like they did for my first half), you’re going to want some toss away layers. If there’s a chance of hard rain, you may want to grab a water-resistant jacket instead of a thermal. Make sure you’re going to be comfortable for the entire race, not just the first 10k.
- Have a transportation plan – to get to the race, and also back to your hotel or car. I can’t tell you how easy it is to start forgetting small details when you’re really excited race morning. If you’re racing in your hometown, make sure you know exactly where you should park and how you’re getting back to your car. Don’t think that you’re going to figure it out the morning of. There will be plenty of other last minute trouble shooting opportunities. I promise.
- Shoes go in your carry on – If you are traveling for your first race, this is incredibly important. Make sure you have the clothes you plan to wear on race day and your shoes in your carry on. I can’t tell you how many times lost luggage has become an issue, and the last thing you want to do is wear new clothes and shoes to a race. Make sure your tried and true broken in outfit stays with you, so that even if your luggage ends up in Miami, you’ve still got the most important essentials with you.
Related Post – 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Running My First Marathon
- Pack a breakfast – A lot of races start well before any reasonable adult would ever wake up on a weekend. Because of this, a lot of hotels might not be serving breakfast before you need to head out. And the last thing you want to do is plan on grabbing a bagel or banana on your way out, only to find no options in the lobby. Make sure you take at least one food item that you know you can tolerate on race day morning, like a single serve cup of oatmeal, just in case there aren’t any appealing options wherever you’re staying. Here’s a few options I love for race day breakfasts.
- Use a drop bag – Especially if you are running bigger race, like the Rock N Roll series. If the race is crowded, there’s a good chance it’s going to take you a while to get back to your car or hotel. I cannot adequately describe just how good it feels to take off your shoes and put on some flip flops minutes after you cross the finish line. You might want to toss in a sweater or fresh shirt to have something nice and comfortable to wear while you’re getting where you need to go.
- Buy the damn pictures – If this is your first half-marathon, shell out of the money for the professional photos. Will you look your best? Probably not. But is finishing a half-marathon a big deal that needs to be memorialized no matter what? Yes it is. Buy the damn pictures.
- Chill with the carbs – While it may be tempting to toss back a large plate of rotini, think twice about the volume of food you eat the night before a race. Do you want to eat more carbs than you might usually on a regular Sunday? Yes. But you don’t want to eat so much that you spend all night in the bathroom instead of sleeping and resting. Stick to the same kind of dinner you usually eat the night before a long run.
Running 13.1 miles for the first time is a huge achievement, and it’s not one that comes easy. Hopefully some of these tips will help make crossing that finish line a little less painful and a lot more enjoyable!