Tips to Surviving (and Enjoying!) your 1st Half Marathon

Written by Janelle McLeod is a 2019 Biofreeze Berkeley Half Marathon Ambassador. She would love to Boston Qualify one day and continues to pursue faster times while exploring races across the US. She also owns a goldendoodle who races 5k’s and 10k’s and is working his way up to his first half! 


First off, congrats on deciding to run your first half marathon! Whether you’ve been working hard for months, or one of your friends signed you up without your knowledge; you’re committed and I’m going to help you get through it. The idea of running 13.1 miles can seem overwhelming but with the proper training, research and encouragement, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the finish line comes and how proud and accomplished you will feel at the end. Below are a few tips I’ve learned along the way and I hope that you will find them useful as well.

#1)  Nutrition and hydration are key factors to consider when running long distances. The idea is to practice your fueling and hydration techniques during your training runs, so you can sort out any complications and try new products before the big race to find what works for you. 


Make sure to eat something simple but easy on the stomach before you leave the house, allowing 30-45 minutes for your food to settle before running. Try an English muffin or a piece of toast with peanut butter or oatmeal. Most people suggest fueling every 30-45 minutes during your run. GU gels and chews contain carbs that easily and quickly convert to energy and come in dozens of delicious flavors. I also recommend sipping on water or an electrolyte drink every mile, or at each of the 7 water stations along the route to grab some fluids. 


If you do not properly fuel or hydrate, you will suffer the dreaded “bonk”, where your energy levels are depleted and you may experience cramping or side aches. Even if you don’t feel hungry or thirsty, my theory is to always stay ahead of the bonk, because once it hits, it’s hard to come back from.


#2) Pacing is also important but different for everyone. A 6-minute mile is just as far as an 11-minute mile, so don’t get discouraged if you are not the fastest person on the course. You will need to find the pace that is comfortable for you to sustain for a long period of time; but also one that challenges you a little bit. 


Race day can be very exciting and your adrenaline will be pumping. Be sure to follow your race plan, rather than going out too fast and getting caught up with a pace that is too fast for you. The Biofreeze Berkeley Half Marathon will have pacers that range in times from a 1:25 half marathon to a 2:40 half marathon so you will have no trouble finding a group to run with that fits your needs, if you choose. 

Review our BBHM pacer information here


#3) Course research is one of my favorite parts of preparing for a race. Race websites typically provide a map of the course and an elevation chart so you know exactly what to expect. This allows you the luxury of designing your training runs to simulate race day so that you show up feeling prepared, confident and ready to run! The Biofreeze Berkeley Half Marathon’s website contains course details such as the map, elevation, and water stops.

For example, the Biofreeze Berkeley Half Marathon has a decent sized hill at mile 4.5 so during your training run try running a hill around mile 4.5. The reasoning behind this practice is come race day you know what it feels like to mentally and physically tackle this hill. Also, if you live in the Bay Area, drive the course ahead of time to check out the scenery and landmarks. Visually seeing the course first hand will help you feel better prepared and not surprised on race day.  


There will be spectators out on the course and my favorite thing to do is run along the side of the street and high five everyone; it gives you an incredible feeling of happiness and shows appreciation for the folks who have come to watch the race. I hope that these tips have been helpful in your half marathon training preparations. The most important part is to remember to smile, have fun and enjoy every moment you can. I hope to see you out on the course!

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