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My best friend is running her first half marathon in the morning. I’ve been texting her with suggestions and tips – but then it occurred to me that it might be slightly less annoying if I just wrote it all down in one blog post.
I’m certainly no expert in racing, but I WAS a total newbie just a couple of short years ago, and I remember what it feels like to be nervous and to have no idea what to expect on race day. I’ve picked up a thing or two during 5 half marathons (tomorrow will be my 6th) – some from my awesome running friends, and some from my own trial and error. So here goes.
source: 1st Place Sports on Facebook
10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before My First Half Marathon:
- Bring a bag and check it. Pack comfy shoes (I bring flip flops) and a towel. A change of clothes is good too, but you can leave that in the car. I can’t stress the shoe thing enough. After my first half, my feet hurt so badly that I chose to walk barefoot through the gravel parking lot instead of keeping my shoes on.
- Get to the race early. The Port-A-Potty lines are notoriously long. If you even think you might have to pee, GO. Don’t try to hold it. Suck it up and just use the Port-A-Potty – and if you absolutely can’t stomach it, find a big tree.
- There will probably be Port-A-Potties on the course. Don’t make yourself miserable by trying to hold your pee for the entire race. The first few Port-A-Potties usually seem to be the most crowded, so if you’re concerned about losing precious minutes by waiting in line, you might have better luck a little further down the course. A quick pee in a Port-A-Potty with no line shouldn’t take you more than about 90 seconds. Personally, I think those extra seconds are worth the lovely feeling of an empty bladder.
- Don’t change your breakfast routine. If you’re used to running on an empty stomach, don’t start researching race day breakfast foods the night before your half marathon. You’ve probably heard it before, even if you’re a newbie – but it bears repeating. DON’T DO ANYTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. Experiment on training runs. Not on race day.
- Bring your own fuel. Some races will have “fuel stations,” but you shouldn’t take any chances. What if the fuel provided isn’t the fuel you trained with? And what if the new stuff upsets your stomach? (See #3.) I’m a GU girl, but during my last half they provided a different brand of gel at the fuel stations. I tried the new stuff, and while it didn’t make me sick, I wasn’t prepared for the consistency. It was much runnier than I expected – as a result, I ended up with goo (not GU) all over my hands. It was gross.
- You’ll need carbs. If you haven’t experimented with fuel (gels, beans, chews), which I highly recommend you do before your next race, you should still bring carbs to help get you through the miles. Bring something that you know you can tolerate – something you’ve eaten before without GI distress. I like to bring Starburst or Sour Patch Kids. Pretzels are popular too. There’s lots of research on this and I’ll save the scientific stuff for another post – but as a rule of thumb, you’ll need to eat carbs any time that you’re running for longer than an hour. I usually start munching about 45 minutes into a run, or earlier if I’m feeling hungry or sluggish.
- Don’t bring a fancy hydration belt or water bottle. If you’re concerned that the water at the water stations won’t be enough for you, then bring a disposable water bottle that you can ditch when it’s empty or when you get tired of holding it. You’re probably not going to leave your $30 hydration belt on the side of the road, no matter how annoying it gets.
- Keep it simple. Another reason to leave the hydration belt home – every time you use a Port-A-Potty, you’re going to have to take everything off and then put it back on again. Not only does this take time, it’s hard to do when you’re soaked with sweat. I recommend bringing a small pouch (I’ll be running with my FlipBelt tomorrow) or wearing clothing with pockets with enough room for your fuel, and anything else you absolutely have to have during your run.
- Bring entertainment. Crap happens. The people you sign up to run with might not be the people you end up crossing the finish line with. On more than one occasion, I’ve made plans to run with a friend, and then at the starting line or a couple of miles into the race, they decide to run at a faster pace than me. Your friend might get hurt. She might be slowing you down. Whatever it is – have a Plan B. Bring headphones and music. Make sure your iPod and/or phone is fully charged. If you end up running alone unexpectedly, and I really hope you don’t, you’ll thank me.
- Don’t give yourself the pressure of a time goal. I don’t care how fast you are, how fit you are, or how many 5K’s you’ve run. A half marathon is different, and your only goal for your first one should be to finish it. Let yourself physically and mentally adjust to the rigor of running 13.1 miles. Then go ahead and set that time goal for next time.
I won’t sugarcoat this. Running your first half marathon can hurt. But the feeling of crossing that finish line and feeling that medal placed around your neck is indescribable. So enjoy your bagel, bask in the moment, and then hobble out to the parking lot and put that 13.1 magnet on your car. You’ll have earned it.
Do you have anything to add to this list? I’d love to hear them!
Good luck Ami, and anyone else with a race coming up!