So this is it, you have been following the training program, you have at least six months of running under your belt and the last three or four months have been devoted to training to run 21K or 13.1 miles.
If you have been following your training program and eating healthily then you should be in a condition where you can not only complete the course but you can really enjoy the experience.
Some people will be running a half marathon race in preparation for a bigger challenge, such as a marathon or an ultra event. For other people this will be the pinnacle of their running career; they will have started on the C25K training program and worked their way to this point. Whatever the reason for running, this article aims to answer the many questions you may have and ease some of your fears with some top tips for race day.
There are many training programs to help you run half marathon race. You need to have a look at these and choose one that best suits your lifestyle and training preferences. If you are someone who is time-pressed during the week, then you will need a program that concentrates on shorter, faster runs in the week and a long, gentle run at the weekends. Or you may be someone who picks up injuries easily and so your training may involve other activities, such as swimming or cycling, to help improve your endurance but to save your legs from so much strain.
Most training programs for running a half marathon race work on the basis of three months. If you are a complete novice, or have had a long lay off from running, then you should expect to train for six months before running a half marathon race.
This is the first distance at which you will encounter tapering. This means reducing the amount you run in the fortnight leading up to the race. You will have built up to the full distance during your training and then, with two weeks left, you will reduce the mileage and allow your legs to re-fresh. You should not stop running in the days before the half marathon race, but your runs should be gentle, just enough to keep the muscles loose.
While you are preparing for your half marathon race you will need to pay extra attention to your body. Make sure you stay flexible by stretching every day. In the week before the race this is especially important as you want to feel at your very best on the day of the event. Particularly concentrate on the major muscles of the legs – calves, hamstrings, quads and the gluteals (muscles in the buttocks).
A lot of half marathon runners are advised to load their diet with carbohydrates in the days prior to the race. At this distance this is not necessary. If you are eating properly with plenty of fruit and vegetables and getting enough energy through your normal diet then no change is necessary. Runners often make the mistake of bulking up on carbohydrates, particularly the night before, but all this will do is overload your system with glycogen and you will suffer on race day as a result.
For your pre-race breakfast a bowl of porridge or a couple of pieces of toast with preserve will be sufficient. If you are suffering with nerves and feel that you will struggle to eat, set your alarm earlier than you normally would so you have time to eat some food and digest it.
And remember, now is not the time to experiment. If you eat unfamiliar food the night before your half marathon race or change your breakfast routine, then you could have a very uncomfortable experience during the race.
Keeping hydrated is very important, both during the race itself and during the entire training program. Don’t rely solely on water; drinking too much water damages the balance of electrolytes in your body. Have a mixture of sports drinks, fruit juice and water.
On the morning of the race drink small amounts of water from the moment you wake up, but again don’t overdo it. You want to be hydrated for the race but not overly so, otherwise you will be paying lots of visits to the toilet.
The night before your race get your running gear ready. Your shoes and socks should be ‘run in’ – that means you will have worn them to run in before. This will help prevent blisters, the most common and annoying problem to beset runners.
Your running kit should also be tried and tested. The most common problem is clothing that persistently rubs and chafes the skin. Shorts that rub the thighs or tops that chafe under the arm pits can ruin a run and cause all sorts of discomfort. By putting lubricant on sensitive areas you can avoid these problems. Areas that runners should be particularly aware of are the inner thighs, under the arms and ‘runner’s nipple’ – something both men and women should be aware of.
The big day arrives
So the day of your first half marathon race is here. Try to keep calm and relaxed and stick to a routine as far as possible.
Know where you are going, how you get there and, once there, what the procedure is. You will have been sent race instructions, which usually will tell you about transport links, parking accessibility and other important facts about the race. Leave plenty of time to get there. The one thing you do not want is a last minute rush that leaves you agitated before the run begins.
The instructions will probably also have information on bag drop areas and places where family and friends can watch you run or meet you at the finish. Most half marathon races start and finish at the same place and there are usually facilities for you to leave your bag and collect it after the race.
Finally, in preparation for the race, know where the toilets are. Nerves will kick in and multiple visits to the toilet may be necessary.
Top tips for the half marathon race
Don’t set off too fast – a classic mistake and one that you will regret. In the excitement of the start, a lot of people charge off. Remember why you are there. This is your first half marathon, the main aim should be to finish.
It is not about the time – running a half marathon is a huge achievement. You should not be worrying about the time it has taken you, just revel in the fact that you have achieved an amazing feat.
Don’t race someone else – this is about you. Run your race, at your pace and soak up the atmosphere. If you are worrying about someone else, your enjoyment will be diminished.
Don’t push yourself too hard – yes it is a challenge, but no, it shouldn’t hurt so much you never want to put a pair of trainers on again. Don’t be scared to slow down if you feel you are going at a pace you are not comfortable with.
Savour the moment – when you cross that finish line you will feel euphoric. Most races have finishers medals and t-shirts. Wear yours with pride.