Without a doubt, the half marathon is my favorite distance—but I can certainly empathize with runners who can’t imagine running for 13.1 miles without stopping! In fact, in middle school my favorite race was the 400 meters. In high school? It was the mile. And in college, I was all about the 6K in cross country.
Even my first three years as a professional runner, I never ran a race longer than 10 miles. Finally in 2015, after almost two years of frustrating injuries, illnesses and setbacks, I was losing my love for the sport. I kept comparing my current self to my former self. I needed a change, something different than I had ever done before so I would have nothing to compare it to. I decided to try the half marathon (a daunting distance for the uninitiated) and I loved it. Whether you are contemplating your first half, wanting to improve a past performance or simply crush an upcoming race, here are my tips on how to conquer 13.1.
Level 1: I Wanna Finish!
Are you new to the half-marathon distance and feel a little daunted by the challenge of such a long race? Using a walk/run method will help you pace yourself from start to finish. Plan to run 9 minutes and then walk 1 minute. By breaking the run up into 10-minute segments, you will stay more engaged in the moment—this helps you feel less overwhelmed by the length.
Level 2: I Wanna Run!
Are you ready to push yourself in a half but don’t know how to approach the distance? The key is to set yourself up for a negative-split race (finishing faster than you start). Begin at your normal training pace and hold steady for the first 6 miles. At that mark, slowly pick it up so your last mile is your fastest. Using the progression technique, you will not expend too much energy early on so instead of bonking in the second half, you will pass other runners while feeling strong.
Level 3: I Wanna Race!
Are you comfortable with the half-marathon distance and ready to achieve a PR? I suggest breaking the distance into four parts.
- First 3 miles: Ease into your pace, trying to dial in goal effort by the third mile.
- Middle 4 miles: Focus on form, staying calm and relaxed, in tune with your body and breathing.
- Miles 7–10: This is where things start to get tough. Talk yourself through this part. Think about the work you have put in, and then keep your eyes up and your mind on the finish line.
- Once you hit the final 5K (aka the 10-mile mark), it’s game on. Time to race and kick it in to victory.
Bonus: Drink Up, Fuel Right
Covering 13.1 miles at your best requires consumption of fluids and fuel on the course. Be sure to practice with gels before your race to determine what sits well in your stomach. I recommend taking a gel 15–30 minutes before the start, sipping water or electrolyte drinks at the provided stops and then downing another gel at mile 6. This system will help you run strong all the way to the finish line!