For the record, I’ve just done one half marathon, the Cohick Half Marathon in Springfield, MO. That was last November. Currently, I’m training for the Country Music Half Marathon in April (but only if I get my recurring knee flare-ups under control soon). Even though my experience with the half marathon is limited, I learned so much in training, during the race, and after the race that I’ve compiled this list of half-marathon dos and don’ts (and actually, you can probably apply these to other distances, too).
- Get regular pedicures. As runners, we sometimes forget how much work our feet do for us. Yes, our legs do most of the work, but we pound on our tootsies a lot. Find a good pedicurist (hey, if she’s a runner, even better) who will file off your callouses and massage out the toxins that build up in your feet. She can also pull out plantar warts you may develop and make those black toenails more presentable. Whatever you do, don’t get a pedicure within a week before your race! The massaging and filing might make your feet a little tender, and they need some time to recover.
Edit: For the guys reading this, pedicures don’t have to include color. I have a few manly guy friends who have had pedicures, and they were sort of mad that women had been keeping the secret wonders of a pedicure from them.
- Train on the race route. I was fortunate for my first half-marathon to be in the same town where I train, so I was able to train on the actual race route. By the end of my training, I had run the entire course several times and knew where all the mile markers were and knew that I could make it over the huge pedestrian overpass at miles 8 and 11. Training on the route made me mentally tougher during the race because I knew what to expect and how to handle it.
- Train with a group. The Springfield area has an awesome running club, and the Ozark Mountain Ridge Runners sponsored a training group for the local race. We met every weekend for our long run, and they had energy replacements, water, and Powerade for us. They organized seminars about nutrition and injuries, and they hosted pre-race and post-race pizza and pasta parties to brief and de-brief our races.
- Go to the race-sponsored pre-race pasta party. Free food, hundreds of runners, and motivation—what else could you want before your race?
- Eat/swallow an energy replacement gel at the starting line. And eat/swallow one every 20-30 minutes, especially during the first hour of your race. The longer I run, the less I feel like eating, especially during a race, but I diligently swallowed my energy replacements during the first hour of my race, and I know they’re the reason I was able to finish it. Twenty minutes into the race may seem too soon, but you want to replace energy as you’re using it. You certainly don’t want to wait until all your energy is gone to start replacing it!
- Find a running buddy. This goes for training and race day. If your training buddy doesn’t run the race with you, find someone at about your pace and run with them during your race. I met up with a gal named Cynthia at about mile six, and we kept each other going. We were able to carry on a conversation (the indication that you’re not working too hard), and we pushed each other to finish strong.
- Make attendance mandatory. My parents, brother, and in-laws all lived within driving distance of my November race, so I made it clear to them early in my training that I expected them to be there. I didn’t have to twist their arms too badly, but I brought a box of Krispy Kremes for them to share on race day morning.
- Make signs and race-chasing mandatory.Not only did I require my family to come to my race, I required them to follow me. Before the race, I made a Google Map of the course and marked the locations I wanted them to meet me. I even made a spreadsheet of expected times of arrival for each location. My mom and mother-in-law got in the spirit of the event and made signs that said, “Go Sarah!” and pretty much made idiots of themselves the entire race as they cheered for me. But I and every other Sarah who ran the race loved them for it
- Get a massage after your race. I waited until the Tuesday after my race for my massage, and it was wonderful having all the kinks in my muscles worked out. Splurge for an hour-long session; my half-hour massage was too short.
I only have one don’t for my first half marathon (and really it was out of my control): Don’t let your training buddy move to Germany four weeks before your race. Maybe it’s just me, but I really bared my soul to my training partner. She is more than just someone to run with; she became my best friend over all those miles, so it was really difficult to retrain myself to run alone after she left. Fortunately, she was able to find a half marathon to run shortly after she moved, so neither of us had to give up our half marathon dreams.
This list is pretty unorthodox for a list of running tips, but you can find lists telling you what to wear and eat and do anywhere. I hope some of these things that worked for me also work for you in your half marathon.