Do’s and Don’ts of Running a Half Marathon

Now that I recently started marathon training, I wanted to reflect on all that I’ve learned from the nine half marathons I ran last season. I know a lot of you are better experts than me at racing, so this may be old news for you. If not, this is what I have learned so far…

DO: Go to bed early the night before.
DON’T: Get 5 hours of sleep because you’re running around trying to get your gear ready at the last minute. Or because you just discovered Sleep Number beds.

Lesson Learned: Chances are you’re going to be anticipating the morning, which means tossing and turning for awhile (at least for me). That 5 hours of sleep can easily turn into 4 or less and you want to feel your best in the morning.

DO: Test your fuel before the race.
DON’T: Eat or drink something new during a race.

Lesson Learned: I knew this and didn’t listen. I took my first (and second) Gu during my first half marathon only to have stomach issues during the race and find myself so nauseous after the race that I couldn’t walk for two hours. I also found out the true meaning of Colon Blow.

Yes we do.

DO: Wear clothes you have ran in before (especially shoes).

Wear that cute new running skirt for the first time that you bought just for the race.

Lesson Learned: Just because you look cute in a running skirt doesn’t mean your thighs don’t still rub together. Luckily this was a 5k and not a half marathon, but I still had a rash afterwards. Now I don’t wear that skirt at all. :-(

DO: Hydrate for a full week before your race.
DON’T: Try to suck down as much water as you can the day before the race.

Lesson Learned: I didn’t know this for a long time and only hydrated the day before. I can tell a big difference. I don’t feel thirsty during a race when I hydrate all week. If I just hydrate the day before, I’m dying by mile 2.

DO: Lay your running gear out a day before your race.
DON’T: Get your running gear ready the morning of the race.

Lesson Learned: I think this is the only one I’m really good at sticking to. This ensures you don’t forget anything. Instead you can leave your iPod in the car like I do. Leaving it in the car in the morning will make you way more irritated than if you just left it home to begin with.

DO: Wake up early to eat breakfast.
DON’T: Eat too close to the race start time.

Lesson Learned: I still don’t give this the amount of time I should. It’s important to allow your breakfast to digest and let nature take it’s course. In the words of Dan, Michelle‘s husband, “you can’t PR if you don’t PRP.”  (PRP = Pre-race Poop. Thanks for that Dan. So glad that phrase will be in my head for the

Also, it’s easy to get stomach cramps and feel sluggish if you eat too soon before a race.

DO: Eat a meal the night before the race that you have eaten before.

DON’T: Eat a greasy burger and fries because it’s carb loading and they have more carbs than what you normally eat.

Lesson Learned: That hamburger was before the Gasparilla Half Marathon. I made close friends with TWO port-o-potties during the race. The grilled chicken and potato were before the Iron Girl half marathon and I had no stomach problems. I’ve learned that major carb loading  just doesn’t work for me. I have to eat what is normal for me and that doesn’t involve overloading on carbs.

DO: Eat a race day breakfast that has worked for you in the past.
DON’T: Eat peanut butter toast with a banana because all your favorite bloggers eat that and it works for them.

Lesson Learned: Peanut butter gives me gas.

DO: Start running conservatively.
DON’T: Feel like you need to keep up with ever runner that is speeding by you at the beginning of the race.

Lesson Learned: The start of a race is when your energy is highest. You’ll want to pass all the people just to get out of the crowd. Try to avoid this if you can because more than likely you’ll burn out. And let your friends take stupid pictures.

DO: Hydrate before you feel thirsty. Fuel before you feel hungry.
DON’T: Wait until you feel hungry or thirsty. By then you are already dehydrated and undernourished.

Lesson Learned: I don’t have any problems with the hydrating. I need my Camelbak during a race because the water stations are never enough. I’m still learning this fueling thing. I know when I need to eat, I’m just too scared to do it. Running and eating and Paula do not get along. Usually I can handle really small things like sports beans.

DO: Stay Positive.
DON’T: Worry about the what-ifs.

Lesson Learned: I have a really hard time staying positive. I’m constantly worrying about my stomach issues and a slew of other issues (a slew!). I do know that during the one race where I kept repeating positive thoughts in my head…I PRed by 2 minutes, even with stomach issues that started at mile 8.

Did I miss anything? What are your do’s and don’ts for a first half marathon?


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35 Responses to Do’s and Don’ts of Running a Half Marathon

  1. hahaha I NEED THIS!! for my half in oct!! at least u learned a lot! to help us:)

  2. Awesome post! I can relate to so much of your lessons learned.

  3. This is a FANTASTIC post! I’ve learned that I am not talented enough to drink water out of a cup while running. I inhale the water, choke, and then have that weird feeling of “I think I need to sneeze” in my nose for a few minutes. It’s not pleasant.

  4. Great post, and your pictures & commentary never fail to crack me up! No 1/2 tips, but these are great ones. :-)

  5. You crack me up! I think I’ve sworn off running skirts for a while because it always requires me to use an obscene amount of body glide. Looking cute isn’t worth the potential for rashes like that.

    I can’t believe you did 9 halfs last season… crazy. I might’ve done more but I was sidelined from October – February.

  6. Jenny @ Fitness Health and Food

    Paula, these are great tips! Even though I’m familiar with them it’s great to be reminded with your first hand stories! I definitely went out to fast for the start of my half marathon on May 1st and paid for it!

    The one tip I might add that I fell prey to was pacing off of others runners because all of the pack running I did in high school. If you didn’t train with them don’t race with them ! 😛

    You are too funny in you sleep number bed! :)

  7. Thanks for the tips! And for the laughs :)

    I will always remember PRP now!

  8. Super great advice! I especially love Michelle’s husbands “you can’t PR if you don’t PRP.” I need to have Randee read this about the GU and poop talk. She had the same issues and almost quit running because of it!

  9. Aarika

    Really great post! I think you covered the bulk of it & it’s super helpful. And I LOVE that first race picture of you-the one in the black. You look so strong & fierce! Oh, and PRP is genius! It will be forever plastered in my noggin’, too.

  10. Katie

    I agree with Aarika – that pic is a good one!

    DO: Tell me where you got that running top. :)

    • LOL – I got it on But they discontinued it. So right before they did, I bought it in 6 colors. I’m glad you like it, because it’s basically the only thing I wear. :-)  (Although, my friend Michelle said she saw it recently at TJ Maxx. So, I gotta check it out!)

  11. I know Dan reads you blog, so I’m sure he’s happy you remembered!

    DO have friends and family there to join on the race fun! One of the best parts of racing is celebrating when it’s over :)

  12. Angie

    haha, I took a gu on Sunday during my half and I totally should have stuck with my chomps or jelly beans. YUCK! That was the worst mile of the race!

  13. Ro

    I can relate to your tips concerning stomach issues. My go to dinner the night before a half is a turkey sandwich. I’ll be eating my turkey sandwich while everyone else at the table eats spaghetti. My stomach can’t handle pb and banana sandwiches. Actually, I don’t eat anything before a half – my stomach is too sensitive. The sleep numbers shout out cracked me up!

    • I’ve considered eating no breakfast too but haven’t tried it yet. What do you eat during a race?

      • Ro

        For a half, I’ll have one gu. The first couple of times I had Gu – I got nauseous. I then tried shot blocks and sport beans but I couldn’t handle the chewing. I went back to the Gu and somehow my stomach can handle it now. I’ve done one full (Houston) and I stuck with the gu s and had no breakfast. My stomach felt fine – my legs – not so much.

        • I’m wondering if my Gu was a fluke. I bought a Cliff shot (not the blocks) to try out during a training run but it’s so hard to eat when you’re scared so I still have it at home. I don’t like the chewing either!

          • Ro

            I would give the cliff shot another go or have a Gu. My stomach is a complete wreck before a race so that’s why I can’t even have breakfast. Once I have a PRP, I feel so much more relaxed. I’m going to tell that slogan to my running buddies!

  14. I need a running skirt. It does look super cute. My thighs rub together in everything, so BodyGlide and I are super duper friends. Except when I call it AstroGlide. Then it’s just embarrassing…

    My only other tip is SAY NO TO SHUFFLE. Your pie chart rocks. You don’t want to end up hitting a wall and then listen to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy…

    • LOL to the Astroglide. And so true. I need to plan my songs out but I always shuffle and end up listening to My Heart Will Go On on the home stretch.

  15. Love this post! Now you’ve got me thinking of other do’s and don’ts before a race. Oh I got one! Make sure you sort out parking and how to get to the race before the morning of. For my half, we had to change parking plans at the last minute due to road closures and ended up taking a C-Train to the starting line. Probably the best idea because there was no way we would have been able to park close.

  16. LoriV.

    Thank youf or these tips. I’m already freaking out about my first half next month and need all the advice I can get! I hope I have people there to cheer me on; it’s still up in the air at this point.

  17. My thighs rub in my skirt too!!! I wonder if they actually work for anybody?

  18. I’ve never experienced the thigh rub thing but I think it’s because I don’t run that much…
    : P
    And if I ever do decide to run a marathon, I’ll make sure to follow these rules. Thanks!

  19. Yes yes yes yes yes. Excellent advice.

    If only I didn’t have a non-pooping issue. :( So glad I can come here and be myself. :)

  20. Great advice!!! I’m always so paranoid that my stomach is going to turn south on me in the middle of a race – and nowhere near a porta pottie.That poor girl at Boston is my greatest fear – that’s why I usually opt for the black running pants!!!

  21. Jessica

    Best “Do’s and Don’t’s” post I have seen to date. I agree with them all. Some I’ve learned the hard way but I guarantee you, the lessons learned that way have a way of sticking with you for life :)

    And yes, a PRP is necessary…always.

  22. Alex

    Love this article! PRP to PR is now stuck with me for the rest of my life! Thanks for that! lol I can’t believe you ran so many half marathons. I’m running my first one next month. :) Thanks for the inspiration. Keep up the good work!

  23. I angrily pictured that pie graph the other night as my shuffle cycled through the same 4 songs over and over during my attempt at speedwork on the treadmill. Of course they were the only slow songs on a playlist of like 3 hours. So angry, shuffle. angry.

  24. Pingback: The Day I Was Glad I Have a Big Butt | Eat:Watch:Run

  25. Paula

    It must be the name Paula….this Paula can’t eat and run either. #unspeakablehorrors

  26. Hey Paula! I know this was written a few years ago but I just stumbled across it on the eve of my first half marathon and it helped ease some stress and answer some questions I had. Thanks for the tips and the laughs :)

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