When committing to your first half-marathon, it’s important to be prepared beyond just putting in the miles. After training, studying the course map, testing your race-day outfit and checking the weather forecast, there should be no more surprises, right? Not quite. Even the most primed runner might encounter a few race-day surprises.
Here are five things half-marathoners might not expect.
THE CROWDS ARE REAL
The main advice given to new half-marathoners is to start at a conservative pace. However the first few miles may be even slower than anticipated due to crowding. The bigger the race, the more people to share the road with. All a runner can do is start within her assigned corral and stay relaxed.
“Be patient. Don’t panic. Don’t elect to waste energy by weaving around other athletes. This strategy adds distance to that runner’s race,” says Elizabeth “Corky” Corkum, an RRCA-certified running coach in New York City.
Despite the slower pace, there are a few positives to a crowded start. Not only will it keep first timers from starting too fast, but you might also find a new friend to run with during the race.
FUELING AND RUNNING
Even the most experienced runner will have trouble drinking or eating while running. It’s a skill many first-timers tend to overlook, along with coming up with an overall fueling plan.
During a few long runs, practice taking your fuel of choice — gel, blocks or chews — along with water. Think about the frequency you want to stop at water tables. Also, be sure to look up the type of electrolyte drink or fuel the race provides. If you haven’t practiced with it, skip it and bring your own fuel while sticking to water.
If running and sipping feels too tough, walk through the water stations. Ensuring you stay hydrated is more important than losing a few seconds.
THE TOUGH MILES
No one ever said half-marathons were easy. At some point, your legs will feel heavy and doubts may start to creep in. Yet many first timers do not have a plan in place for the tough miles, preferring to think they will feel awesome for the entire race. Come up with a few strategies to stay mentally strong and focused on your race.
“When we hit the wall, brain function is also often compromised, so it can be a real struggle to stay positive and motivated,” says Corkum. “Pull back on the pace and get in fuel at every aid station possible. Mentally, focus on that mile, that block or a landmark.”
EVERY MILE IS DIFFERENT
Those aforementioned tough miles do not mean your race is over. Suddenly, maybe after fueling up or getting some cheers from a friendly face, you feel great again.
“I find the highs and lows, and then the highs again to be something most runners don’t experience until they begin racing distances of 13.1 miles and greater,” says Corkum.
If your pace slows for a mile, don’t panic or give up your race plan. It could be anything from the terrain to just needing a sip of water. Try something new and you could be feeling ready to hit race pace again.
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YOU’LL WANT TO DO IT AGAIN
“I find most runners are surprised by what they can accomplish,” says Corkum. “The sense of accomplishment and pride is pretty high for a first-time half-marathoner.”
This might be the most unexpected part of a half-marathon. Despite sore muscles, exhaustion and maybe even a missing toenail, most runners start thinking about their next goal race soon after crossing the finish line.
But even after you’ve completed one half, always expect the unexpected when it comes to race day.