A Coach's Top Tips for New Half Marathoners

A Coach’s Top Tips for New Half Marathoners

The half marathon is one of the most popular race distance in America. It’s long enough to require committed training and to present a challenge, but without the intense time and energy commitment of the marathon. Every year, more runners sign up for their first half marathon. If that’s you, here are some tips for new half marathoners to help you train for the race and enjoy your experience. 

A Coach's Top Tips for New Half Marathoners

Pick a Plan Appropriate for Your Fitness Level

A novice runner (running for less than 12 months) has different needs than a more experienced runner who is just now venturing into the half marathon. 

Factors to consider include:

  • Number of runs per week
  • Weekly mileage, both starting and peak
  • Number of hard workouts per week
  • Intensity of hard workouts
  • Long run distance, especially starting and peak
  • Length of the plan

If you are a novice runner, you will benefit from a plan that focuses primarily on building endurance. Pick a plan that starts with your current weekly mileage, including the long run. If your long run is not long enough yet, spend a few extra weeks base building or scale the plan. Increasing mileage too quickly can often cause overuse injury, especially for new runners. A novice half marathon plan might max out at 10 or 11 miles for the longest run before the race.

If you are a more experienced runner, you can handle higher mileage and more intensity. Your plan will likely include long runs up to 13 miles and hard workouts such as intervals or tempo runs.

 If you want guidance beyond the plans found online, consider hiring a running coach! I’ve coached dozens of first-time half marathoners, and their plans always vary based on their fitness level and goals. A coach can help you train appropriately and make necessary adjustments along the way. Plus, no generalized plan will provide the accountability, guidance, and support that a coach does. 

Don’t Obsess Over Your Finish Time

You don’t need to have a goal finish time or train at your goal race pace for your first half marathon. The first half marathon is about the experience of the race. You can aim for a big goal in subsequent races. Too much emphasis on a goal time can add unnecessary stress for new half marathoners or cause them to push too hard in training or on race day.

A Coach's Top Tips for New Half Marathoners

Recovery is Part of Training

Mileage is only part of the equation. Adaptation occurs when your body is able to recover from the stress of training. If you do not recover, your hard work is less effective.

Good recovery practices include: 

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Foam rolling 
  • Eating after long runs and workouts
  • Minimizing stress

Fuel Your Workouts Appropriately

There is no need to take in gels or chews on runs lasting less than 90 minutes. However, once your run exceeds approximately 90-100 minutes, your body won’t be able to rely on stored glycogen anymore. After that point, you need supplemental calories during the run in order to avoid an energy crash.

The exact amount you need varies based on your weight, fitness level, and metabolism. Typically, most runners find that 30-40 g of carbs per hour is a good starting point – roughly one gel every 35-45 min. You want to spread these carbs out at frequent intervals, such as every 35-45 minutes, to provide a steady release of energy. (Want to learn more about fueling for your first half? Sign up for this comprehensive half marathon and marathon fueling video course!)

Gels are not the only option! If they work for you, that’s great. But if they don’t appeal to you or upset your stomach, know that you can choose from other options such as chews, whole foods, or other options (such as these for sensitive stomachs). 

Make Strength Training a Part of Your Plan

Strength training should be part of every runner’s training plan, whether they are training for their first half marathon or twentieth. Strength training reduces the risk of injury and improves your running performance. (However, it does not replace running – you still need to log miles to prepare your first half.) For new half marathoners, overuse injury can be a concern due to increasing mileage – so any step to minimize injury is valuable.  

If you have not consistently done strength training in the past, gradually introduce it into your routine. You do not want to do too much too soon, as that can cause injury. Start with one or two short bodyweight workouts per week. A simple routine of squats, lunges, glute bridges, push-ups, and planks will be effective! 

If you regularly strength train already, you can continue that type of strength training as your mileage increases. Aim to incorporate one to three strength workouts per week during half marathon training. 

Try one of these strength training workouts: 
Functional Kettlebell Workout for Runners
Hip, Core, and Glute Resistance Band Workout 
6 Core Workouts for Runners
Quick and Effective Strength Workout for Runners

Don’t Get Greedy on Race Day

If all goes well with your training, chances are you will feel good on race day. The first few miles of the race may feel almost too easy – but resist the urge to run faster early on. A half marathon is a long race. If you push too hard at the start of the race, you will likely fade or bonk somewhere around mile 8-11. 

A Coach's Top Tips for New Half Marathoners

On race day, focus on a smart race strategy. The first half of the race should feel relatively comfortable and sustainable, especially the first few miles. You want to conserve energy over the first half so you don’t fade in the second half. If you reach mile 10 and still feel good, then you can pick up the pace. Even if you have a goal time, aiming for a conservative start and strong finish is an optimal pacing strategy for your first half marathon.

Linking up with CoachesCorner

What helped you feel prepared for your first half marathon?

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6 Responses

  1. These are all great tips! When I started running, I’d already been strength training for years. I had no idea how beneficial that was until I ran my first half. Pacing and not going out too fast are so key!

  2. I agree with all of your points, but I think the biggest one to focus on is not being greedy. A lot can happen on race day, especially in the first 5k that going in with an open mind and aiming to negative split is a very effective strategy to follow.

  3. Yes! Definitely do not get greedy on race day. I like to tell my friends running a half marathon the first time, if you go slow and enjoy your first one, you can always run a faster time and get a new PR later! Anything can happen on race day, and it’s important to make your first an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Here are some more helpful tips for first time half marathoners to make their race day successfull: https://runningmybestlife.com/first-half-marathon-tips-race-day/ .

  4. I’m currently facing a C-section in a little over a month due to low lying placenta. I’d love to hear how your recovery is going and any tips you have.

    1. Hi Jennifer,
      I hope your C-section goes well! I will write a full post on my recovery once I’m at the six week mark. It’s always best to defer to your doctor’s advice, but what helped me the most was getting up and walking as soon as I could (for me, the day after the procedure) – even just a couple minutes are the hospital at first. Daily walks (gradually building in distance and with the stroller to provide more stability) have helped so much in recovery.

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