1. Study the Course Map
2. Set Out Your Clothes and Gear
Laying out your race outfit the night before is helpful before any run, but especially the evening before your big race. It's a good way to make sure you don't forget something because you're nervous on race morning.
There's nothing worse than reaching the starting line without your hat, money, gels, or bib. If you picked up your race packet early, go ahead and pin your bib to your shirt. That's one less thing to think about.
Pack a shirt or jacket to wear after the race. Bring extra socks or sandals to make your feet dry and happy after 13 miles.
3. Get to the Starting Line Early
The best advice I have about the starting line is to get there early. Arrive with plenty of time so you can visit the restrooms, get a feel for the area, and seed yourself properly.
If you're late, things happen that mess with your race and your head. For example:
Even when you're seeded in the right spot, some races have crowded, claustrophobic starting corrals. Try to stay calm and run your planned pace. The crowd will thin in the first mile, and you'll have room to run.
4. Start Slow and Run Your Own Race
I'll repeat that headline because it's really important. Start slow and run your own race.
It's easy to get caught up in the excitement as the race begins and run too fast. Your heart is pumping, you're ready to run, and everyone is racing. But wait just a minute. You're running 13.1 miles. Start slow so you can go the distance. If it's your first half marathon the goal is to finish. Period. Finishing is winning!
Run your own race means exactly that — run the race your body can run. Run the race you trained for and will enjoy. You'll be happy when you reach mile 13 and till have energy left to kick in your finish!
5. Hydrate and Fuel on a Schedule
Energy Gels and Chews
Check to see what gels or chews will be offered. If you've used the brand before, then use it on course. If you haven't, carry your own fuel and use that. Go ahead and take the fuel offered during the race, but save it to try later.
If you've never trained with gels or chews, don't try them for the first time during a race. It may or may not upset your stomach, but why risk it?
As with hydration, make a plan for fuel intake. Some people fuel based on mileage, others base it on time. The trick is to fuel regularly, even when you don't feel like it. Like hydration, you want to anticipate your needs, not play catch up.
6. In-Race Strategies
Divide the Race into Smaller Parts
Don't think about the finish line or 13 miles when you start. Break the race into smaller segments. Then celebrate when you reach each individual goal.
I hear runners at every half announcing "A third of the way done!" or "We're halfway there!" or, "Just 3 more miles!" It's a boost to acknowledge each accomplishment.
Pick a Pacer
If the race has official pacers, use them. They're experienced runners who help you stay on pace. I've run with some excellent pacers. The best ones are coaches who give you tips and distract you with conversation.
If you're not ready to run in a pack with a pacer, find your own unofficial pacer. As you're running, look for someone ahead of you who matches your pace. Think of them as your pacer, and stick with them.
Choose a runner who looks strong and steady. If you're lucky you'll follow them all the way to the finish line. (Maybe even kick past them at the end!) If your unofficial pacer gets tired and slows down, find someone else.
Play Pass and Repeat
Spot a runner ahead of you who you want to pass. Tell yourself, "I can take them." You want to keep your pace, but motivate yourself, too.
I like this strategy late in the race when I need a distraction. I've used it many times by telling myself things like: "I will not be beaten by someone dressed like a cartoon," or "No way is that 8-year old going to beat me," or "I can take that guy dressed as Gumby."
In fact, I was beaten by a 5-year old once, but this strategy worked great when I beat two runners dressed as "Fast Food." Give it a try!
7. Smile, Enjoy and Celebrate Your Race
Take a look around as you run. You'll see things running at street level that you'd never notice otherwise.
Take in the views. Smile at the spectators. Read all the signs. Talk to other runners. High five small children. Wave to the officers keeping the course safe. Focus on your music.
If you're energy dips, take a walk break. Catch your breath, straighten your shoulders, smile, and start running again.
The race will be a memory before you know it. Try to enjoy the entire experience.
Celebrate Your Finish!
Cross that finish line like you mean it. Dig deep for that last bit of energy and kick it in! Grin. Jump. Pump a fist. Give a high five. Do a happy dance.
Get your new bling and wear it with pride. Take a photo. Enjoy a post race banana and beer. Congratulations, you're a half-marathoner!
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