How to Run Your First Half Marathon {Even with Lots of Little Children at Home}

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Are you thinking about running a half marathon? This time of year, we see people running in the parks, on busy roads, or even in your neighborhood. Beginner and seasoned runners are dusting off their shoes and logging some miles for the spring races.

Want to run a half marathon? Don't miss these tips for first time runners!

Today, I’ll share my beginner best tips – hopefully, you can avoid some of my mistakes!

Have a Plan for Running a Half Marathon

A half marathon isn’t something you can tackle on the fly. You need a training program, potential training partners and perhaps a cheering section.

What are the benefits of a training group? You have camaraderie as well as accountability, along with coaches with experience. Sometimes, a long run can be a little lonely. The time goes by much faster when you have someone chatting it up beside you.

run a half marathon

Wear the Right Shoes for a Half Marathon

Your most important pieces of your running wardrobe belong on your feet. Don’t just order shoes from Zappos because they’re cute.

Instead, get fitted, and try the shoes out. Don’t forget to upgrade your socks, too. My go-to shoes are these Brooks.

training for half marathon

Know WHY You’re Running a Half Marathon

I ran a half marathon to prove to myself that I could accomplish a goal. Having a reason to run keeps you going whenyou’re ready to lie down and die at Mile 10.

how do I train for a half marathon

Garner Support for Your Half Marathon

When you make the decision to run a half marathon, you have two choices. You can keep it to yourself, in hopes that no one will notice you have the appetite of a linebacker, and calf muscles to match.

Or, you can tell everyone you know about it.

People will ask you how you’re training is going, whether you’ve lost any weight (and no, I haven’t. ARGH!) and offer you advice, good or bad.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll have a friend who will offer to come and cheer you on. My friend Laurel met me at the halfway point. I’ll be forever grateful to her.

Half Marathon Race Day Tips

After all the training, you’re ready for race day.

train for a 1/2 marathon

What Time Should I Arrive for a Half Marathon?

Get there EARLY.

Yup – this is one of the rules that I never can seem to get right. Race morning goes like this in my house:

“I told you, I want to get there early!! Parking is going to be a nightmare! There are 15,000 other folks running! ARGH!!!”

Those cute pictures you see of friends before the race begins? Don’t look for me there. I’m the one jumping over the corral gate to get started.

bib for mini marathon

The Half Marathon Atmosphere

Soak up the atmosphere.

You can feel the excitement and anticipation in the air before the beginning of a race. You can visit with friends, encourage other first time runners, and just soak it all in. (that is, if you get there on time)

Once the race begins, take in the crowd. There’s all sorts of things to see, from the spectators, to people wearing crazy costumes, to high school bands playing on the sidelines. My all time favorite thing I’ve spotted? The crew at the KDF Mini cheering us on with their “If you’re still running, we’re still drinking!” T shirts!

A close second would be Austin Powers at around Mile 12.5.

training for a half marathon

Pacing for Your Half Marathon

The race begins, you’re full of adrenaline. You want to blast out of the starting gate like a horse at the Kentucky Derby.

Wrong move, partner. This isn’t a sprint. It’s 13.1 miles. Have a game plan in mind. I wanted to start out at a easy pace for myself, and hopefully turn it up a notch as the race went on.

Instead, I was a dork, went out a full minute per mile faster than I wanted, and by Mile 10, I wanted to die.

Fight the urge to go all out in the beginning. You’ll thank me later.

Half Marathon Routines

Stick with what you know and love.

Race day is not the time to try the new Spicy Chicken biscuit from Chick Fil A, or the adorable new tank top you picked up at the race expo.

DO NOT try something new for breakfast, new shoes, clothes or race fuel unless you like inviting disaster. Familiarity does not breed contempt in this case.

train for a half marathon beginner

9. Hydrating for a Half Marathon

Everyone has different rules for hydration. Here’s mine – you WILL need water, and lots of it, especially if it is hot.

I personally start a few days before the race, carrying around my water bottle, and making everyone think I’m crazy for hogging the bathroom.

For shorter races, like a 5K, I personally don’t stop for water. On longer ones (10K and up), you’ll see me at every water stop. I even have a fancy pants hydration belt.

I have Nuun electrolyte tablets that were recommended to me by my friends at Run The Ville. When Gatorade or Powerade is available, I drink that, too.

half marathon training

Half Marathon Fueling

Sometime during your long run, the tiny breakfast you ate (because you were so nervous, and couldn’t choke anything else down) will be gone, and your blood sugar will start to tank.

Ideally, you want to avoid this from happening by fueling during your run. The key is keeping your blood sugar at an even level.

Some people carry protein bars, some use energy gels (think packs of frosting), some even carry jelly beans or candy bars.

I recommend Shot Blocks – easy to cram in a tiny pocket, and they taste GOOD! I broke rule #8 this race and tried some Margarita flavored ones. Not a fan.

Brett also tried Sport Beans and loved them.

Reward yourself!

Along the way, you’ve pushed yourself to your physical and mental limit. My friend Angie reminded me that rewarding yourself is key, both during training, and after the big race is finished.

What about you? Do you have any tips that I’ve forgotten? What helped you along the path to a half marathon, or even greater?


  1. Dianna,
    You are a wealth of running knowledge! How long are you at it? I just signed up for my first Half (but as a team with my 17yo) and need to start thinking hydration and sugar. I’d love to know what you can add to my post:
    Top 10 PT Tips for Selecting Your Next Running Shoe
    I’m officially a follower and will be back for sure!! 😀

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      Ha! Only since October — trust me, I’m just getting started!

      I’ll head over and read that one again 🙂

  2. Runnermom-jen says

    Hi! Just stumbled by from TTT. I too am a runner, my top 10 last week was about running. It’s awesome to see another running/blogger on here! Congrats on the 1/2 marathon!

  3. drew ferriell says

    That’s all very good advice…I especially follow # 8. I would add a good list of music to pump you up when it is needed. sometimes the spectators will pump you up too..the crowd was great on Sat.

    There is nothing like that first one-the journey you take and gradually realizing that you really can do it. Congratulations!

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      Hells bells! Of course, I would forget the music list!
      I had three and a half hours, just in case. I didn’t listen to it all the way — just in certain spots.

      And — you need no advice — since you finished an hour ahead of me! Brat! 🙂

  4. Veronica says

    These are great tips. I have so many friends that are runners.

    I have yet to jump in, my knees are bad and I still have the notion that running is only to be used when you are being chased or your toddler is about to run into the street!

    Glad you had such a lovely race, good for you!!!!

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      Oh, Veronica, trust me, when I mention to my long time friends that I am running, their jaws hit the floor. Look up there at Drew’s comment. He’s one who’s probably very surprised by my running adventures!

      Best advice — start SLOW!!! I started running on vacation, and hated every minute of it. So glad I stuck with it.

  5. Suzanne says

    I would add “listen to the experts” they really know what they are talking about. I know, you don’t think you need a dri-fit running shirt, I know you think you don’t need a rest day while training, I know you think you don’t need fuel or pacing or whatever it is….but trust the experts! they know what they’re talking about!

    Also, trust your plan! On race day I really was tempted to go faster than my normal pace, but was so thankful I didnt when those last few miles were still pleasant (versus miserable because I went out too fast!)

    And lastly I would say believe in yourself! It’s amazing what your body can do! On January 1st of this year I couldn’t even run 1 mile without stopping and on saturday I ran 13.1 miles! It’s pretty incredible what you can do if you just push yourself, train, and prepare!

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      Congratulations, sweet thing!!!!

      I totally agree with you about listening to the experts. Who in the hell would have thought that I needed $11 Balega socks, right?

      I wish I had stuck with my plan. I’m really beating my head against the wall about Saturday. It’s like my husband said — I ran the PJ 10 Miler so much better, and there were giant hills to contend with there!

      Love your advice!

  6. Hmmm… I needed this BEFORE the race, silly… Especially numbers 2,5,7 & 8… Oh well, live and learn, right 😉

    Also, thanks for all the shoutouts – you’ve sent about a million people to my blog. Love ya!

  7. Dianna Kennedy says

    You didn’t get there early???? I thought you were an early bird.

    And of course I gave you loads of shouts out — that post deserves loads of love!

  8. You are rad! I aspire to one day be you! I am currently on my third attempt at Couch to 5K after two injuries. I am certain that if the Biggest Loser contestants can run, despite the ages and weights, I can too.

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      The Biggest Loser folks are amazing — although injuries worry me for them. (boy, was that poor grammar, or what!)

      Sorry to hear about your injuries! I’ve managed to escape anything major — had a little IT Band stuff back in February – much better after new shoes!

      Please stop back by and let me know how the Couch to 5K goes. When is your race?

  9. I know nothing about running, but this makes me want to try! Job well done mommy!

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      Do it, do it!!

      Seriously, it’s easy, as long as you start out slow. Look in your town for a local running store. They should have some sort of beginner training setup, similar to a 5K.

      I did it all on my own, which is fine, but I think having the group around helps a lot.

  10. I’ve just ran a few 5Ks, but you are so inspiring, I’m hoping to do my first 10K this summer, after that… maybe, just maybe…


    • Dianna Kennedy says

      That’s seriously how things went around here. I did a 4K, a 5K, and a 4 miler with the Polar Bear Grand Prix series.

      After that, it was a 5K, a 10K, then a 10 miler. We call that the Triple Crown of Running around here, and it sets you up for running the Mini.

      Pick one for the fall, and do it!

  11. This is wonderful! I am currently training (just started) to get ready for my first half marathon! I am only doing the Couch to 5K now and then start the half marathon training schedule in July…the race is in mid November. I could NOT be doing it without the group of us that are in it together. The accountability is KEY for me! We have a group of us but one other girl and I actually do our running together each time. (she only lives 5 houses down!) :0)
    I am printing out all of your tips and the comments

    (I KNOW I will need all of the help I can get!)

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      That’s where the training group really comes in handy. I am a member of a local running forum, and we pump each other up all the time.

      You’re doing a fine job – just keep it slow and steady. Is there a 10K in your area this fall?? I think that’s a great distance for learning pacing (something I STILL have a lot of trouble with.)

  12. I think runners are amazing people. It takes so much dedication and diligence. I’m PROUD of you and want to be just like you one day. I’ll keep your tips in mind if that day ever comes. 🙂

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      Diligence, dedication, with a dash of CRAZY added in, too. I’ve ran in the pouring rain, in snow and ice, as well as swelteringly hot weather. (anything over 70, and I’m a giant whiner)

      You could do this, no problem!

  13. Excellent post! Training for my first which is in July! (WFMW)
    my running blog is irunonpurpose.blogspot.com

  14. Stacy Uncorked says

    Awesome tips! 🙂

  15. Life with Kaishon says

    I don’t have any tips so I don’t think I could even run half of a block, but WAY TO GO! You are amazing. This was exciting to read!

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      Oh, please! 🙂 I couldn’t run a half block when I started, either. Slow and steady!

  16. Crystal & Co says

    Wow, how inspiring!

  17. Dianna, my trainer sent me this blog link. Its great! I ran my first 1/2 marathon this past Saturday (Oct 1). I’m 33 and up until about 9 months ago, I never in a million years thought I could/would run a 1/2. But, I started running 10ks and crazily thought “if I could do a 10k, I could do a 1/2!” Well, I did it, and very glad that I did! Here are my results:

    Chip time: 2:45:11
    Clock time: 2:46:57
    715 out of 1766 runners
    123 out of 140 age group

    I will definitely keep you in my blog reading list!

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      Brandy …
      Your story sounds much like mine, only I’m a little older!

      Around here, the craziness starts with the Triple Crown. We have a 5K, followed by a 10K a few weeks later, then a 10 mile run a few weeks before the main event of the half/full marathon. Around here, the half is called the mini. It’s like a rite of passage for runners in this area.

      AND ….. you did better than me in my first! Congrats! I’m trying to beat my time in my first in a few weeks — we’ll see how it goes. I really fell apart at the 10 mile mark the last time.

      Thanks for coming by!!

  18. Running Ross says

    Some good tips here. Having a reason to run is massively important – there have been times in races where I have wanted to give up but knowing that I was running for charity or to beat a PB kept me going!

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      Thanks for stopping by, Russ!

      Motivation is becoming a big issue for me now, with my pregnancy. I’m on a 10 minute rule — If I can get out the door and just run 10 minutes, then I know I’ll be good to go.

      Keeping my fingers crossed for a PR in my second half marathon this fall!

  19. Wow! Great site!! Thank you for all the tips 🙂

  20. What about gummy bears…any good for races?

    • Dianna Kennedy says

      I think Gummy bears would be fine, but in the Kentucky humidity, they’re going to get icky and sticky QUICK!!

  21. Katheryn @ The Healthy and Fit Homeschool Mom says

    I just turned 37, and training for my 3rd half and my first full marathon next year. You have some great tips. It is a challenge, my first one I tore both ligaments in my shins from adding too many miles to fast. It’s important to be comfortable running at least 3 miles 3-4x a week before tackling training. I always race the way I train. I don’t eat along the way, and I don’t stop. But you have to do what is comfortable for your body. Congrats on your run, and good luck. They are super addicting. I just wrote our my training schedule in my site as well.

  22. Great advice! I ran a half many years ago, and this post would have been so helpful then. I’ve pinned it in case I ever decide to do one again.

  23. Shari Lynne @ Faith Filled Food for Moms says

    Dianna I think it’s just amazing that you take such great care of yourself with FIVE littles running around! I love your list for getting ready to run a marathon…all I can say is YOU ROCK!! 😀

  24. Wow! I’m just proud of myself for getting to the gym for cardio classes a couple of times a week!

  25. Amazing Post Dianna!!! One of the best ways to prepare for half marathon is to start early, be consistent and be sure to practice hydration to see how your body responds to the longer run. And yes, I do believe that motivation is a must to remain diligent.

  26. The half marathon is a serious challenge, but very rewarding! It helps to be fully prepared with everything you need to know to successfully complete your race

  27. Dianna, thanks for the great tips. I’ve never heard about jelly beans as a fuel source but if your stomach can’t take the gels, which some people can’t, this would be a great alternative.

    One important thing that first time half marathoners need to remember is to not get too caught up in the paces, numbers, finish times, etc. I know that we all want to finish our first half marathon in the best time possible, however, I highly recommend that you make finishing your race the biggest goal.

    After your first half marathon press on for faster times and PRs.

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