Running & Fitness

Four Tips For A Great First Half Marathon

Joe Fell
Latest posts by Joe Fell (see all)

My favorite distance to run is the half marathon, and I would like to share some of the tips that have helped me conquer those 13.1 miles. Many great half marathons take place during April and May, and many first-time runners may be seriously considering signing up for their first half marathon. Here are four tips that you can use to make sure that your first half marathon is successful!

Know Your Course

When I ran my first half marathon, I knew the entire course as well as I knew the half-mile loop on which I completed some of the first training runs of my life. Aside from the few miles on a freeway, I ran on every part of the course at least once before race day. I knew where every incline was located and had a number of landmarks that I used to gauge distance. Because of this, I ran the race with confidence and had a memorable day that I’ll never forget.

In contrast, I ran my first full marathon on a course on which I had only partially driven. I would never do this again. I had no landmarks to use to gauge distance and no idea about the location of inclines. To make matters worse, the course was not well-marked and I often found myself running tentatively. Needless to say, this was not an optimal way to complete my first full marathon!

If you live near the area in which you are running your first half marathon, make sure that you do some of your training runs on the course on which you’ll be running. If you are running a destination race, you should at least drive the course before race day and make notes on a printed course map. In the world of running, familiarity does not breed contempt!

Do Not Go It Alone

Some folks prefer to run in groups, while others prefer to run alone. Regardless of how you prefer to run, getting support and advice from others during your training is essential.

Hopefully, many of you will be surrounded by family and friends who are understanding about the many hours that you will spend running each week. Some of you may have been inspired to start running by a friend or family member who is an avid runner. Their advice will be invaluable to you on your way to the starting line.

Unfortunately, some first-time runners don’t have understanding family or friends. Fortunately, the Internet is full of great resources at which you can find all of the support and encouragement that you will need to complete your first half marathon. Those of you who are on Twitter should participate in #Runchat, a weekly chat featuring a great group of folks. (More information about #Runchat can be found on I have met many great people through #Runchat, and the advice and encouragement that they share on Twitter and on their blogs has been tremendously helpful.

When You Get To The Starting Line, Trust Your Training

The biggest benefit of training is that it will get your body into the physical shape that it needs to be in order to have success on race day. However, one frequently overlooked benefit of training diligently is that you will arrive at the starting line knowing that you can run most, if not all, of the distance that you’ll be running because you completed those distances during your training runs.

The phrase “trust your training” is utilized so often that it could easily turn into a cliché, but taking this phrase to heart can be the difference between getting to the starting line feeling nervous and getting to the starting line feeling confident. Race day butterflies are inevitable, but when you feel them, tell yourself that you have run most (if not all) of this distance before and that adrenaline and the sheer joy of completing your first race will carry you to the finish line.

If You Begin To Grow Fatigued, Compare Your Remaining Distances To Familiar Distances

While I wish I could take sole credit for coming up with this last tip, I cannot. My friend Matt, who chronicled his training for the 2008 Chicago Marathon on the first running blog that I read in my life, said that he used this tactic to help him get to the finish line.

I have used this tactic regularly since I started running and I have found it to be extraordinarily helpful. During my first marathon, I started to lose steam with about 5 miles remaining. As my will to finish faded, I thought long and hard about my past runs on a beautiful 5 mile trail on which I had run successfully with little effort on many occasions. Doing this helped put the remaining distance in perspective and gave me confidence that I had the power to complete the race.

If you get tired during the race and feel your energy and motivation begin to wane, take a look at how far you have left and compare it to a distance that you conquered easily during your training. When you do this, your mind will tell the rest of your body that you have what it takes to get to the finish line!