Last July, I ran my first Half-Marathon. I set out a goal to run the 2nd half of the San Francisco Marathon. I wanted to 1) see if I can actually RUN, and not walk, the whole length of the race, and 2) see if I like running. It was a great experience! From the training all the way to the finish line gave me a sense of accomplishment that if I put my mind to something, I can achieve it (corny, I know!).
Nevertheless, no matter how much you train or read about running, it can never teach you about the intangibles that can occur during the actual race. So in order to help out any first time half-marathon runners, I compiled a list of what to expect during your first half-marathon. It’s not an all inclusive list, but I hope that you can take one or two little pearls that may help you out as you prepare for your race!
Here is a list of the 10 things I learned during my first Half Marathon (In no specific order):
1. There are never enough Port-O-Potties
-At the starting line, there were rows and rows of Port-O-Potties lined up. I thought to myself that I would wait to use one as the time got closer. What I didn’t realize was that EVERYONE was trying to use them! I almost missed my start time because I was cutting it short! So use the bathroom before you leave your hotel room and you won’t get stuck in the long lines!
2. Take advantage of every water station
-Staying hydrated is very crucial when running long distances. I didn’t bring my own water bottle to the race so I made sure that I was able to grab some water at each water station. One of the stations were passing out orange slices and I grabbed a couple to give me that extra boost. The oranges also helped buffer some of that lactic acid build-up in my legs.
3. It’s crowded the first 3 miles
-Training helps you prepare for race day, but nothing compares to the experience of an actual race. I didn’t realize how crowded the first 3 miles would be. I didn’t account for it and so my times were affected by it. I was running a whole minute slower than my 10 minute/mile pace because I didn’t want to waste any energy zigzagging between runners so I was just going with the flow. Try to stick to your pace, but if you are running a little slower than your goal, find straight lines and do not zig-zag like you are driving on the freeway in rush hour traffic. You will waste more energy that way. You can make up your lost time later on.
4. Stay off your feet the day before the race
-I made the mistake and did the whole tourist thing when I was in San Francisco. We didn’t want to waste the trip and did a little sightseeing. We went to the Golden Gate Bridge, Ghirardelli Square and had some hot chocolate, hung out at Union Square, and spend half the time walking. Next time, I am going to rest and stay off my feet the day before my race.
5. Carb-load throughout the day before, not just the night before
Glycogen stores are what your body relies on when you run out of glucose for energy. On long runs such as a half-marathon or longer, you need to increase your body’s glycogen reserves to give you the energy towards the end of the race to help provide your muscles with the fuel to carry you to the finish line.
In order to build up those glycogen stores, you will have to eat complex carbohydrates such as breads and starches: Rice, potatoes, and whole wheat breads. Also, try to stay off sauces that are too oily. It might not “run” well in your stomach the next day! Believe me, you will already have the anxiety and stress help clean your bowels before the race!!
6. Study the course, especially the hills
-The SF Marathon website had an interactive map that let me take a virtual tour of the actual course. This I believe helped me out a great deal because I was able to tailor my runs specifically to a portion of the race. A good example was that I knew that the Haight Street portion was a steady hill followed by several downhills, I found an area by where I live that had a steady incline with some downhill portions after to help mimic what I was going to face. Sometimes I wish I had the Nike+ SportWatch to help monitor my runs more precisely.
7. Do not get caught up trying to race the person next to you
-There was this older lady that I noticed was running off to the side of me. She was probably in her 60’s, but she was in great shape. What I noticed was that no matter how fast or how slow my pace was, she was about 15-20 behind or in front of me. I thought to myself, “If this old lady can take these hills with that pace, I surely can!” NOT!!!! As I found out, this lady was running the marathon and she kept her pace constant while I was a fool trying to “chase” her up these hills! after about mile 7 she took off and I never saw her again.
Funny thing is, the back of her shirt read: If you can read this, I am NOT in last place!
8. Have someone drive you home after the race
-This is pretty self-explanatory. My legs were so sore immediately after the race! I was not sure how I even made it to my car! So make sure you have a driver, especially if you have a manual transmission, to drive you home! Some people took public transportation to the race, but make sure you do not have to walk too far to the subway/train stations either!
9. Stretch and warm up before the race
-They say that with long runs, the first couple miles are considered your warmup. This may be true, but I still feel that you should stretch and do some warmups before the actual run. This is because it will get you a little loose and take away a little anxiety that you may have at the beginning.
10. Have Fun and enjoy the scenery!
-This is THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON I LEARNED!! It was so fun and exciting to participate in a race such as the San Francisco Half Marathon where I was able to run down the middle of Haight Street, Run pass AT&T Park and under the Bay Bridge! The people were also amazing! They are there cheering you on, giving you that extra will power to continue placing one foot in front of another. And occasionally, there are some guys and gals that are tempting you to take a little shot of Jack Daniel’s!!!!
All in all, running your first marathon or half-marathon is a scary and exciting feat that you accomplish. It takes training and proper planning to achieve this goal. I would encourage everyone to at least run a half-marathon!