13.1 pieces of advice for your first half marathon training. 

Hello!  How are you?  Me, I am fine. It is pouring rain so I am glad I got my workout in before work. My cat is not a fan of the rain either. He likes to hide in the sink. 

Since it is raining too hard to go running, I will do the next best thing and I will talk about running! 😀

Hey Vanessa, I want to train for my first half marathon!  Can you give me some advice?

I have had a few people ask me about training for their first half Mary. Congratulations!  Running your first 13.1 is a really exciting accomplishment. Let me share with you some of my experiences while training for 13.1.  If you are interested in true formal running advice, I advise you consult with a local running coach/store or check out resources online or your local library. I am ALWAYS happy to share my experiences, but I’m not a certified coach so everything I know is based off my own experience. 

Me crossing the finish line of my first 13.1

 My experience was that I went straight into long distance training without ever having done many short distances (oops). I did one 10k and ran a 5k during my first HM training. I don’t necessarily recommend that route but it seemed to work out for me….

Here are 13.1 pieces of advice from me!  I hope these tips help!

  1. Choose an event and put it on your calendar. Get pumped up!  Training for 13.1 in my life has become part of who I am and I’ve figured out how to train for a HM and also have (somewhat) of a social life, but it can be daunting if you’re not already scheduling yourself to run a few days a week and a long run too.  If the thought of running 13.1 is overwhelming right now, then don’t stress yourself out!  You want this to be something FUN in your life, and not a burden. 
  2. You don’t need a lot of fancy tools but you definitely want to take care of your feet. If you’re not already wearing shoes that you got fit for at a running shoe store, I recommend doing so. It makes a WORLD of difference.  Have them analyze your gait. Talk to them about your goals. Share your current training situation. More information helps to get you the best pair(s) of shoes. When I first started out I only had one pair of running shoes that I got fit for and my runs were comfortable but now that I’m more seasoned I have 2-3 that I rotate at any given time. There are areas you can cut back on financially but this is NOT an area I recommend skimping on. Your body will thank you. You don’t need fancy gadgets and high tech performance clothing, but shoes and socks are good. 
  3. Find a training plan that seems realistic. There are TONS of couch to (insert distance here) programs, Runkeeper has free training plans and if you google “half marathon training” you’ll find tons. But pick one that works with your life.  If you read a training plan that seems to aggressive or too relaxed for your current activity level, move on from it and pick a different one. If you find a training plan but the days of the week don’t work with your schedule, make adjustments or find another one. Pick a long run day that works with your routine. I am a fan of Sundays, but what works for me won’t work for you necessarily.  If you know that your book club stays out late Friday nights, maybe Saturday long runs aren’t the best day. Think about whether or not what you choose is realistic, before settling on it. This is one of my biggest regrets from marathon training. I picked an overly aggressive training plan and there were too many really long long runs too early in my training and it burnt me out. Don’t do that to yourself. Enjoy the training process!
  4. Experiment during the training process for a happy runner belly because it is a rehearsal for the race. If you’re testing out gu’s/chews/sport jelly beans/fuel, make sure you try it on your long runs before diving head in on race day. I like to find out what will be on the course and practice with that if I can. I learned that during my first HM. I chugged a Dixie cup of electrolyte drink and cramped til the end of the race. NO BUENO. Lesson learned.  Also practice what you’ll eat the night before a long run/race day and morning breakfast and stick with it. You have heard the term “carb loading” and that’s not license to eat a whole deep dish pizza by yourself the night before a race, but having some carbs in your system helps fuel you. I’m a fan of a bowl of pasta or slice of pizza and a salad the night before, and a bowl of peanut butter oatmeal and banana the morning of. Find what works for you. Don’t over think it. Research suggestions online.  Fueling properly is necessary to running long distance because you don’t want to hit “the wall”, the point where your body runs out of fuel.  
  5. On that note, race day is not a day to experiment with something new on your person. I once was out running the lake loop I run and saw a girl running in a tutu. Smart girl. I assumed she was training to run a race in that tutu. There’s nothing worse than trying something for the first time on race day only to discover that the waist band slides down, the shirt chafes under the armpit, the water backpack is too heavy, your hairdo won’t stay put, your sweatband won’t do its job. Just wear it at least once on a training run, and I recommend doing it on a long run. The more times, the more comfortable. And don’t worry about others and what they think while you’re out training. Runners get it. 
  6. Take care of your body. Eat well. Drink water. Get rest. Take a rest day if you need it. You’re probably putting more demand on your body than you’re used to.  I am always hungry the day after a long run (during marathon training I was just hungry ALL THE TIME) and eat accordingly for that. I also crave salt, so I have salt. Give your body what it needs. 
  7. Life happens so don’t make training stop your entire world. During my first HM training my husband and I went on two vacations and I knew it would affect my ability to run and train the same way I usually could. Make adjustments. Get in miles when you can. Kids get sick, people come over, work gets out late, someone offers you a free ticket to a local musical. Dont let training dictate life. Let it be part of life. Don’t let life stop because of training, but adjust when you can. 
  8. But get in your long runs when you can. Those are important. They are HARD but important!  Don’t skip those if you can avoid it. 
  9. Don’t do too much too soon. There are mathematical rules about when and how you should increase your miles. I won’t get into the details of that here, but be mindful of that. Don’t get too overexcited. That’s when injury or sickness comes in. Stick to the plan you have. Don’t suddenly go from 0-13.1. 
  10. Some distances will feel easy one day and exhausting the next. It’s just reality. Even though I’ve run 7 half marathons at this point, the jump from 11 to 12 miles always seems exhausting to me.  It’s just a tough point for me.  You might hit a wall when you’re running. You might run the best 6 miles of your life one training run and then struggle to get through two miles just days later. It happens. You’re human. Just move on.
  11. Call in reinforcements if you need. I trained for my first HM alone. I never ran with anyone. I was okay with that but definitely spent time downloading tons of interesting music to listen to and often had pre-long run Vanessa set up success for post-long run Vanessa. This meant having food ready, having water in the car and clean sheets on the bed so I could lie down afterwards. My husband was also on board and would assist me (and still does!) when I was wiped from a long run. I recently finished a long run and got in an ice bath and cried because I was so hungry. He left and got me food. He’s good like that.  You might need to spend some time thinking about what you’re going to need later that day, week, month, etc. so be proactive.  
  12. Don’t obsess too much. It’s ok to read articles, follow blogs (like this awesome one!) and talk to other runners but don’t obsess too much. What works for them may not work for you!  It’s ok to find out yourself. But don’t second guess yourself too much. If it’s working, leave it be. 
  13. Don’t obsess too much over time and pace. As you build up your distance you may slow down a little. Why? Because you’re working out endurance up. My 5k PR mile average is way faster than my HM PR mile average because I know I’m sustaining longer. That was important for me. I was freaked out by mile splits and how slow I was going, but I was able to always finish my long runs during my first HM training so it was successful. 

And tip 13.1….. HAVE FUN!  Make this experience your own. Join a group, or find a friend, or listen to audiobooks, or find new routes. Just have fun when you’re training or it won’t be worth the journey. Running the race is just the last part of half marathon training. The actual training is a real achievement and the race is just the celebration of it. 

You’re always welcome to reach out to me if you need more! 

Me at my 7th half marathon (December 2016)

With lots of miles and smiles!


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