As promised in my last fitness post, I’m here with a little how-to for your first half marathon.
The unique perspective here is that I’d still very much consider myself to be a beginner. So, from one beginner to another, I’ll be as real, honest, and thorough as I possibly can.
I’m a very average athlete at best; I’m slow, I get tired easily, and I don’t have a lot of strength. However, I have completed two half marathons and I have an incredibly detailed memory, with an analytical approach to basically everything. I think that renders me capable of writing this guide. Just trust me, alright.
If you’re thinking about signing up for your first half marathon, do it! Honestly, if I can do it, anyone can. Here’s a guide that’ll walk you through what you need to do, eat, and plan – from start to finish. I hope it helps, and please let me know if you have questions in the comment section below.
Let’s get started…
Set a goal 🙌The most crucial step in the entire process. The goal itself is up to you; you don’t need to start with a half marathon by any means. You could start with a 5k, build confidence, and eventually work your way to a full marathon or even an ultra marathon (but I will totally judge you and think you’re a psycho if you do that).
Your goal will fuel every single thing you do in this process; it will keep you motivated, give you something to look forward to, and build your self-esteem. It is an imperative piece in the personal development journey.
Follow Run Nike Women Series on Facebook to get information about their race announcements. Research different races and see what piques your interest. Tweet at your favorite sport brands and ask when they’re hosting events near you, or in a city to which you’d like to travel. Check out lululemon’s here, and the list of San Diego half marathons here.
Download Nike + running
This is the app that started everything for me. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, or how far you go… you just have to go.
When I started training, I used the “Coach” function, set my goal (half marathon, date, beginner level), and it created a customized plan for my level, with reminders each day. Get started here.
Get the right shoesFor me, this was a trial and error process. I love shoes, so it was pretty easy for me to try a solid handful of styles. However, I had no idea that a shoe could make a difference in your run. Silly me. To be honest, I started with a pair of Air Max 2014s, which are actually not intended for long-distance running. I got them for my first – nine mile – running event. They say “Run 4 Pizza” on the tongues and I love them anyway.
I have a strong personal preference for Nike shoes, so my perspective is somewhat limited. But! You can go to a Nike store for a free run analysis to see which shoe is best for the way you run.
A few of my favorites:
Lunarglide: these are my go-to for long distance. Super stable and cushioned. These were my race day shoes last year.
Pegasus: less rigid than the Lunarglide, but cushy and light. Good for medium to long distance. Can work for training as well as the actual race.
Free 4.0 Flyknit: obsessed with these. Better for shorter distance (pretty much no support), but they’re incredibly comfortable and they strengthen the muscles in your foot. Ideal for the training period, not for the race.
A lot of people have told me to train in one pair of shoes for a while, then buy another pair later on, break them in, and wear those on race day. I’m not made of money, so I stuck it out with one pair. It worked out fine. Just remember, we’re beginners, and we don’t have to listen to all the rules…. right? 😟
Get the right gearA crucial step in ensuring that you feel and look your best ✨ – finding the right clothing and gear for your body. Because everyone’s body is different, it’s hard to make general recommendations; I find that the more tailored and personal a selection is, the better it works out. Try a lot on. Test it out. You’ll discover a lot via trial and error, just like with shoes. It’s better to figure it out early so you know exactly what works for race day (and you’ve worn it a few times first to ensure there’s no chafing, rubbing, slipping, riding up, etc).
Above are my last two race-day outfits, for reference.
Things to consider: a solid sports bra, compression socks, and possibly muscle tape if you’re experiencing any issues in that department. I’d also highly recommend a waistpack – this one is seriously awesome (the neon yellow thing in the above photos); it lies flat, doesn’t bounce, and can hold a phone. I feel like you’re sick of my Nike product endorsements by now, so I’ll try to scale back a little.
PS – make sure you have a smooth and comfortable pair of underwear. Sorry if this is TMI but just make sure theres no lace or anything that could cause chafing in the WRONG areas. I’ll leave it at that.
Look into supplements 💊Supplements can help maintain, strengthen, build, and restore your body. I found Arbonne’s pre-workout Phytosport to be tasty and efficient. I don’t like Gatorade or sports drinks, so I was apprehensive at first, but this formula was surprisingly refreshing and didn’t taste super artificial. The flavor is kind of like a creamsicle – you just mix a little powder into water before your run. I also am taking Omega 3s for a myriad of reasons, including joint and muscle health. As mentioned in a previous post, I really have found Anabolic State recovery to be a great addition to my routine to curb soreness. Lastly, Arnica is another great remedy for soreness. It comes in pellet and cream form, so you can ingest it or apply topically.
Focus on nutritionFor me, this process is all about balance. Yes, it’s important to put good, wholesome foods in your body so you can feel and perform your best. But also, you’re kicking some serious ass and burning some serious calories and fat, so treat yo’self to a freakin’ cheeseburger and don’t worry about it.
Some things I’ve loved:
– Strawberry smoothies with vanilla protein powder (I get mine at Mantra Yoga & Juice Bar)
– Quinoa: it’s protein packed and is amazing in salads (my brain is convinced it’s like pasta salad, and that’s a beautiful thing)
– Protein Style Double Doubles from In-N-Out because why not
– Chia Coconut Milk Pudding. I make mine at home. Check out the recipe on my Pinterest here.
Run as much as you can
The key is to keep going, keep pushing yourself. Try to stick to the schedule, but if you can’t, run whenever you have time. Train, train, train… you’ll get stronger, your runs will become more comfortable, and you’ll have less anxiety leading up to race day.
Get a foam rollerThis is actually so important, and something I’ve honestly neglected. Rolling out your muscles is SOOO so essential, and you can get a foam roller at Target for pretty cheap.
There are Groupons galore in the internet world, and you can totally find cheap, effective massages that will help loosen up tight, overworked muscles, and make the training process all the more enjoyable. If you can only do one massage, schedule it for two days after your race. I’d also recommend Arnica Montana (as mentioned in the supplement section) to aid in this as well.
Don’t sweat it 💦
I mean physically you should be sweating it. But just remember: you’re not going to be able to run every day. There will be days where you miss workouts, or run less than you planned. There will be bumps along the way. The key is to not let it stress you out. The whole point of setting this goal is to develop yourself personally and have fun. Try to buddy up with a friend to make things even more lighthearted. Remember to take advantage of your rest days, take breaks here and there, and use those breaks to foam roll, get your massages, and keep yourself healthy and balanced.
Cross trainIt’s super important to continue to work different muscle groups, and take days off from running to do pilates, yoga, swim, HIT, etc. If you’re using the Nike+ Coaching function, it’ll plan those cross-training days into your schedule. The NTC app has workouts you can do at home, and I’ve also tried Kayla Itsines’s BBG, and Ailis Garcia’s Strong Movement guides. I’ve used ClassPass to try a bunch of different studios, bought Groupons for things like barre and pilates, done free intro classes, and gone to Nike’s free NTC classes in their stores.
Plan it out
Figure out travel arrangements, reservations, parking scenarios, day-of to-and-from transportation, etc… ALL IN ADVANCE so you don’t stress the day of, or freak out because you didn’t realize that there wouldn’t be a place to park, or you’re late to the start line because the parking lot is SO much farther than you thought it would be and it’s not like you’re gonna run to the start line….
-Travel dates, available flights, available hotels, etc – book in advance, especially for popular events; these things fill up quickly
-Packing: make sure you have all your necessary equipment, snacks, toiletries, supplements, etc
-Parking: check the course map and see what your options are
-Transportation to the start line
-Transportation home from the finish line
-How you’re getting your meals, if you’re eating at home or out of town
-Where you’re eating after, if you’re going with a group somewhere
Clearly this is coming from someone who had a lot of pre-race anxiety. Just do your research, figure out logistics (i.e., how am I getting there? how am I getting home afterward? where am I going to eat? do I need a reservation?), and prep at least a few weeks out.
Make a solid playlist 🎶
I ran with friends but still had a headphone in one ear to keep positive tunes pumping me up the whole time. Click here for my training playlist on Spotify. I’d recommend a combination of your expected upbeat, power songs (and a lot of T Swift), and mellow, vibey music for when you hit your stride and you want to chill/reduce anxiety.
Choose a good hair style
This sounds silly, but think about it: it’s gonna be a nightmare to have to keep stopping to fix your hair. I also had a nightmare scenario (IRL) in which my sweaty hair bounced out of it’s half-pulled ponytail but became entangled on the hair tie so much, that I had to rip a chunk of hair off to release the hair tie and re-do my hair. It was painful and tragic. But you don’t learn from your successes, amirite? Check out my Pinterest here, which has some sporty hair styles I like. Practice a few and then run a few miles to see how the style holds up.
Regardless of weather, you’re going to be outside. Don’t end up with sore muscles and destroyed, sore skin. You’ll just be miserable but no one will have sympathy for you because you literally brought all of it upon yourself. I suggest this SPF 50 cream from Clinique for your face. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m checking out this Coola sunblock from Nordstrom soon… I’ll report back. It claims to have up to 80 mins of sweat-proof sun protection ☀️
The night before the race last year, we hit up an Italian place and got some pasta to carb-load. Since my advice is rooted in experience and not in science, I picked a few articles for you to reference that’ll help you properly carb-load. Click here, here and here. My scientific suggestion is spaghetti 🍝
Get good sleep & destressI experienced a lot of anxiety leading up to my first half marathon, rendering it nearly impossible to sleep. Usually my favorite activity is napping/sleeping, and I can fall asleep basically anywhere – in a car, in a football stadium, on a couch at a party with loud music… you get it. However, even two days before the race, I was so excited and nervous that I couldn’t sleep at all. I was insanely tired the next day, but I couldn’t nap. When it came down to the final hours before I’d have to get up and run 13.1, I knew I had to take action.
- neuro Sleep – I’m pretty sure the active ingredient is ketamine. Possibly THC.
- Bedtime Tea – this one from Yogi is soothing and relaxing
- Melatonin tablets – a little extra kick (and it’s all natural) to get you to fall asleep😴
I’d also suggest diffusing oils if you can; lavender, ylang ylang, jasmine and eucalyptus are all soothing, anxiety-reducing, sleep-promoting oils. If you’re willing to pull out all the stops, I’ve been recommended this sleep mask from Tempur Pedic.
Eat the right breakfast 🍳
What you eat before the race is crucial. They always say, “nothing new on race day,” so figure out your breakfast ahead of time, and eat it a few times before your runs at home. I’ve been advised to avoid dairy and anything difficult to digest… and I am by no means a dietician, but my pre-race breakfast included:
- multi-grain toast with peanut butter & honey
- a banana
- a hard boiled egg
- one chia squeeze
I avoided coffee as I didn’t want to be jittery (and I didn’t want to take a bathroom break…). Some people drink coffee and are completely fine, so that’s totally up to you. This article here has some more advice if you’d like to mix things up a little and create your own breakfast menu.
Most races will provide you with snacks, and every race has water stations along the way. You’ll find little cups of h2o and nuun or gatorade, orange slices, and sometimes even chocolate. Don’t worry about bringing a water bottle.
I know I keep saying “this is so important,” but really, this is so important. Don’t start out too fast. You’ll burn yourself out so quickly. I’ve found that I actually gain a little bit of energy if I start pretty slow and build up. Determine your pace ahead of time in your training. This is the “x-minute mile” you’ll be running in the race. If, during the race, you feel yourself going too fast (or you can see you’re going too fast on your Nike+ app), slow yourself down. You’ve got a long way to go. It literally is a (half) marathon, not a sprint.
Wind downAfter the initial high and excitement, you might want to fall over and die after you cross the finish line. Walk around for a minute, get one of those silver blankets, and stretch out. Depending on what your finisher’s village looks like, you may have the option to roll out or get a quick massage.
Eat some more
Most finisher’s bags will include something like a banana and some protein-filled snacks. Hydrate properly; try a recovery drink, or just drink a ton of water. Treat yourself to a brunch with friends. I know I initially thought I’d want some celebratory rosé, but one sip of alcohol was way too acidic for my stomach and I couldn’t even take a second sip. I couldn’t eat anything sugary either, especially not chocolate, and definitely not hot cocoa or anything with milk. However, my stomach fully embraced a cheeseburger from the Tipsy Pig with open arms 🍔
What helped me alleviate the late onset of soreness/death was the Anabolic State pineapple powder. There are an infinite amount of post-workout recovery powders and beverages on offer (some races will offer it at the finish line; Nike provides Vega samples), especially at the getting swole store. I downed this stuff like my life depended on it, and I think it really, really helped me.
Shake it off
Go for a light, easy run the day after (it can be a short one!) to loosen up your muscles a little. Apparently this is part of the recovery process. Keep drinking the recovery drinks and hydrate, then get a massage the next day.
Ice bath if you dare
The last thing I would say to try is an ice bath. You’ll feel like Jack from the Titanic and be pretty miserable, but it’ll reduce swelling in your muscles. After the ice bath you can jacuzzi to loosen everything up again.
Reward yourself. You just achieved a serious goal, and you should give yourself a serious pat on the back.
I hope this helps you in whatever stage you’re in for your first half marathon, whether you’re just starting to run, you’re looking for tips, or you’re really trying to set your PR. If you have any questions on how I got started, feel free to comment below – I’d be happy to share!
10 thoughts on “a beginner’s guide to half marathoning”
Hi! How long did you take to prepare for the half marathon? Do you think that 8 weeks is a sufficient amount for a beginner runner to complete a half marathon?
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Hey! Great question. I did a 12-week program, but I think 8 weeks would be just fine! Especially since I didn’t completely stick to the schedule… if you train pretty diligently in those 8 weeks I’d think you’d be more than prepared! Good luck :) Let me know how it goes! x