September and October is packed with half-marathons around the country, including three of the biggest in the Great North Run, and the Bristol and Cardiff Half Marathons. Over 13 miles can seem a daunting prospect, especially for newcomers, but these race tips should ease the stress and have you running strong…
You should lay out all of your race clothing the night before. Attach your race number via safety pins and lace your timing chip to your shoe. Doing this now saves needless stress in the morning – and as you could well be rising before 6am, that’s no bad thing.
There’s no doubt about it – in the build-up to your first half marathon, you’ll worry. Come race morning, adrenaline will be coursing through your veins faster than Mo Farah down the home straight. That means when the gun fires, your hormones will propel you faster than you’ve ever run before… until two miles in you’re panting for breath with the very real chance of a DNF (did not finish). Aim to keep an even pace throughout or go for a negative split. This is where you complete the second half of the race quicker than the first. A heart rate monitor is essential here, though some races even have pacers who’ll run at goal times, be it 1:30hrs to 2:45hrs. Follow them and you won’t go wrong.
Even though it’s autumn, you’ll sweat and that’ll lead to dehydration. Research shows that dropping 2% bodyweight leads to a dip in performance, so ideally drink every 20mins. Most races will have feed stations so this should be achievable. Or you could run with a back-mounted hydration pack. As well as liquid, you’ll need energy levels topped up. Energy gels come in handy here. They contain around 30g carbohydrate per sachet, so two of these each hour are recommended during a half marathon. Just make sure you practise in training as the taste of gels can vary markedly. SiS Go are one of the best.
Not only for the cameras but research shows that smiling alleviates the pain of any challenge. Four-time Ironman Hawaii winner Chrissie Wellington was rarely pictured without a Cheshire cat grin and it didn’t do Chrissie any harm. Over 13 miles is a long way and could well take over 2hrs to finish. You’ll have lows but mentally prepare for them by practising in training turning negative thoughts into positive ones. ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body’ is a common one.
James Witts is a writer & editor specialising in endurance sport, health & fitness, outdoor adventure and sports science.