My First Half Marathon: Lessons Learned After Completing My Race

Coach Rory · September 24, 2017

I have been running most of my life. Sometimes for weekly cardio and other times to unwind and detach for an hour or so. Although I don’t consider myself an amazing runner by any means, I have been active my whole life. Nevertheless, besides a few runs over 13.1 miles, and a handful of 5K’s, I have not participated in many structured runs. Which means my first half marathon was quite an event!

There are a lot of things that I learned while preparing for, and racing in my first half marathon. Some of them I did well, others I did not. Hopefully my experience will give you the information needed in order to make your next race a success!

My First Half Marathon: Race Preparation

Start Your Training Early

There are very few people that can complete any given task without training. Although I didn’t train for longer than a week prior to competing in my first half marathon, I seriously wish I had. For those who are pretty active, give yourself at least a month to train. For those who are a little less active, and/or haven’t run further than 5K, give yourselves much longer (around 10-12 weeks, working up to at least a run per week at 8-10 miles)

Hydrate and Fuel Properly

Running has a funny way of telling you if your body has or doesn’t have the right amount of fuel and water to function properly.


I’ve never consumed Gu before (The fructose based, carb-packed, single-serving ‘goop’), but I’m so glad that I did. They recommend that you consume one 45 minutes, and one 5 minutes prior to your run, and then every 45 minutes following that. Just as I would feel my energy levels start to drain, it would be time to consume another Gu. The effects were felt almost immediately.


Most people have the assumption that drinking water right before your run is perfectly fine. However, the process of proper hydration should be taking place up to 48 hours before the race. I doubled my normal water consumption, to the point where it was irritating having to use the restroom all the time, but paid dividends during the run. I had better and more sustained energy, and my pace didn’t suffer after the first couple miles.


Sodium plus other vitamins and minerals play an important factor in water retention during physical activity. With proper hydration, your muscles are able to absorb and retain water at a quicker and more efficient pace. This means less chance to get cramps or soreness from lactic acid buildup.

Proper Clothing

I have lots of athletic clothes, but not all of them are optimal for running. It’s important to pick clothes that have a couple of different aspects.

Moisture Wicking

If you have ever jumped into a pool with all of your clothes on, that’s what I would have looked like if hadn’t I worn clothes that were moisture-wicking. Not only does it keep your body cool by shedding that hot sweat, but it also keeps you light while running due to not retaining as much absorbed water (your sweat). Sticking with polyester or synthetic fabrics with NO COTTON is the best way to go about this.


I jokingly bought a pair of short running shorts with a 3” inseam, but it turns out that shorter shorts help prevent your inside legs from chafing. On the flip side, by wearing long shorts, they get weighed down over time, sticking to your legs as you’re running, and potentially limiting your leg movement. A win in my book with the short shorts!

Light Colors

 I chose shorts that were lighter in color. Lighter colors reflect light and don’t absorb as much heat, keeping you cooler during the run. If you haven’t noticed a trend here, we want to stay as cool and comfortable as we can during a race.

My First Half Marathon: The Day Before

If you’ve ever heard about high school and college athletes having “pasta parties” the night before a race, it’s because it works. Since your body’s preferred source of energy is stored carbohydrates, you want to absorb as much as possible. During the run, your body will convert this stored glycogen to glucose to use as energy. This will give you the resources needed to perform on race day. Don’t have a pasta party for the first time before your big day. You want to make sure that you have tried everything at least once BEFORE your big day. Make no big changes just because its race day.

BEWARE: stay away from greasy and oily food. Pizza, Cheeseburgers, and anything else that will bog you down. When you take in processed and junk food, your body shuts down other functions of the body to devote its resources to digesting. This hurts runners because it can impair performance and make you feel sluggish. You want to stay as close to whole grain and unprocessed carbs as possible. Whole-grain bread, pasta with light sauce, and quinoa are some great options to consider. Wash it all down with a couple of large glasses of water and get plenty of rest

My First Half Marathon: Race Day Morning

Wake up early and eat a LIGHT meal. My race day breakfast before my first half marathon consisted of three scrambled eggs with two pieces of Ezekiel bread and water. Be less concerned about eating enough, and more concerned with eating TOO much the morning of the race. You want to accomplish 13.1 miles without losing that breakfast. Carb loading the night before gives you the luxury of eating a smaller meal, so you can be light on your toes.

My First Half Marathon: At the Race

I got there about an hour before the race started. Most would say that one hour before is when you should arrive so you can find parking, but I feel I could have gotten there with half the time to spare and done just fine. Do your due diligence to find out info about the race so you don’t show up late. You don’t want to be pressed for time in your first half marathon or any race. Generally, bigger races = more people = harder to find parking spots.


The bathroom line by the start gets dangerously long when you are t-minus 10 minutes from the start of the race. I know that there are unexpected circumstances that come up, but walking an extra two minutes to the port-o-potties down the street can save you 10 additional minutes of waiting (and suffering) right by the start.

At the Corral

For some of the longer and more well-known races, they have what is called “pace groups”. These are runners that are sometimes offered by the race to allow you to finish at or before the time you strive to achieve. An example would be the “1:45” pacer. Their goal is to finish at or faster than 1 hour and 45 minutes (they usually finish around 1-2 minutes faster though). Therefore, you can pace alongside this group if you don’t want to be doing division in your head to try and figure out your pace every time you pass a mile. These pace groups are clearly marked, so it’s another option you have.

*Check out our full blog post on race etiquette and tips!

My First Half Marathon: During the Run

Have Fun

There are usually a lot of people that cheer you on during a race, and it’s one of the best things about participating. Read every sign, high-five every kid who holds a hand out. Nothing is that important where you can’t take a minute to appreciate all the supporters.

Utilize Every Water Stop

Even if you don’t drink all the water in your cup, the last thing that you want is to dehydrate early. It can seriously crumble your run and motivation.

Trust Your Pace

I get it, races are exciting, adrenaline is pumping, and you are fueled properly. The biggest mistake that runners make during a big race is starting off WAYY too fast and burning themselves out after only a few miles. Like we say in Charge runs, start off a little slower until your body naturally speeds up, then mellow out. For the first three or four miles of my first half marathon race, it felt like I was running painfully slow, but once I got to mile 10, I couldn’t have been happier that I paced myself outright and was able to maintain that pace to the finish.

My First Half Marathon: Finish Line

Crossing the Line

As you are passing the finish line, make sure you try to take an appealing photo. I failed to do so (see left). My finish line picture was of me pressing pause on my Garmin watch, and could have looked way better than it did. So be sure to suck it up for just another few seconds and take a cool photo.

… As I said, make sure you take a better photo than I did (see below for a laugh)…

Finishers Lane

Take advantage of all the freebies that are handed out. Cold towels, Gatorade, bananas, power chews. Your body is starving for calories, and providing it with these lost nutrients may help in recovery. Plus the cold towels and bottled water will help cool your body down (and they’re free).

Post Workout Recovery

STRETCH! Your body may be tight in a bunch of places, and stretching will promote recovery and prevent injury during the days following a big race.

I like to do active recovery versus complete rest days of no moving. This allows your body to stay limber while the muscle recuperation runs its course. Foam rolling, stretching, and yoga are all great options to consider for loosening up tight muscles during the healing process.


There are tons of different racing events by various companies, some more elaborate than others. During my experience, I learned what worked well for my body and what didn’t work well. Separate individuals will have different reactions to training and therefore will need different approaches. I highly recommend testing strategies during shorter races (such as a couple of 5Ks) to determine what will work best for you during longer runs.

Get even more race advice from Coach Rory and other professional, experienced coaches by joining Charge Running today!

Comments 2

Dolores Rutter · October 4, 2017

Very good advice Rory, I will keep all your tips in mind for my next 5k race!

Kim Finoch · August 15, 2018

Hi Rory! I am on my free trial of the Charge app and have run with you a few times. I will keep your suggestions from this article in mind. I am working on building up to a 10K.

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