Beginner’s Blueprint: 10 Essential Tips for Your First Half Marathon

Running a half marathon can be quite daunting, especially if you’re moving up from running 10km. A half marathon is 21.1km or 13.1 miles and adding that extra distance is not only a physical exertion but can also be a mental challenge too.

During your training you will have probably got up to 16, 17, or 18km and will have tested your race nutrition, worked out what you’re going to wear and made sure it doesn’t chaff, and obviously worked on your pace and got miles in your legs.

If you can get that sorted then you will have a good chance of completing your race but even then doubts can sometimes enter your head. If you’ve done the training then you really have nothing to worry about, but when you’re running the longest you’ve even run then it can helpful to have some mental tips to help you out if you’re getting nervous prior to your race or during the actual event.

Here are some tips and advice from a variety of runners we’ve spoken to, revealing how they get across that finish-line when their confidence isn’t 100%

1. You’ve got this!

You can do this and even if you do have some issues during the race, or get your timings a little wrong, you are physically able to this and the only issue will be a mental one and that’s completely natural when you’re pushing yourself. Trust the training.

2. Forget about finish times

If you only focus on finishing in a set time then you’ll be under pressure the whole race, checking your pace every minute rather than enjoying the run.

Make finishing your main goal as that’s a great achievement and then your second priority is your finish time.

By doing this you are lowering the pressure on yourself, and may actually get more out from the race.

3. Be mindful

Be proud of how far you’ve come. You’re now running a half marathon! If you start doubting yourself then think about your running journey, all the training you’ve put in, and how it’s amazing that you’ve gone from zero running to being able to take on 13.1 miles!

4. Break your run down

Breaking down those 21.1km/13.1miles into smaller chunks will make the run less daunting and more manageable. Don’t tick off every kilometer but rather break it down into 4 parkruns with a little bit at the end.

5. Find a runner to follow

Find someone who is running around your pace and keep them in your sights. This could be a random runner or it could be an official pacer who you will find at some of the larger organised races.

This will keep you moving, distract you, but also allow you do not think too much about your own pacing.

6. Have a short break

You really won’t lose out if you stop for 30 seconds or have a brief walk to compose yourself. In fact some studies have shown that taking a short break can actually improve your finish times rather than tiring out by running non-stop as each walk break erases some of the fatigue you’re feeling.

If there are water stops then at least take a few seconds to stop, have a drink, and then get moving again.

7.Enjoy the crowd

Larger half marathons, especially those in major cities, will often have crowds showing their support so lift your head up, put a smile on your face and soak up that energy from all those people cheering on. If you can get your name printed on the front of your running top then you will sometimes get a random hello from the spectators which is a very nice bonus!

8. Find a distraction

If you’re finding it tough, especially as you get nearer the end of the race then finding a distraction is a good way to trick your mind into not feeling those aches or thinkin of negative thoughts.

Here are some easy things you can distract yourself with:

  • Think of the timings for your ideal Christmas dinner
  • Try counting to the highest number you can
  • Play the alphabet game of trying to spot letters on signs etc working from A-Z
  • Get some music on that powers you though but only use bone conduction headphones to comply with race rules and to be able to hear the crowd etc.
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9. Use a mantra

In those final stages of a half marathon you can give yourself a bit of a mental boost by giving yourself a talking to and using a mantra. A mantra is a short motivational phrase you can repeat to yourself when you’re struggling and examples include things like ‘You can do this!’, ‘Think Strong, Be Strong Finish Strong’, and ‘Dig Deeper’. Find something that works for you and when it’s tough start repeating it to yourself and you’re free to add in an expletive or two as well!

10. Think how good you will feel at the end

At the end of the race you can stop, get a lovely sugary drink, and most importantly get that medal! Guaranteed you will forget about the pain and instead be super proud that you’ve been able to run a half marathon.

Holding a half marathon medal
Adem Djemil
I only started running at the age of 37, completing the Couch to 5k course, and since then I've been hooked, running 4 times a week and even completing several marathons and an ultra!