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.

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 every 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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  1. Rachael @ Happy Healthy Runner says

    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.

  2. Tara says

    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.

  3. Jenny @ Fitness Health and Food says

    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 ! :P

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

  4. Angi says

    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!

  5. Aarika says

    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.

    • Eat:Watch:Run says

      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!)

  6. Michelle says

    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 :)

  7. Angie says

    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!

  8. Ro says

    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!

      • Ro says

        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.

        • Eat:Watch:Run says

          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 says

            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!

  9. daysgobyandigrowstronger says

    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…

  10. Leigh says

    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.

  11. LoriV. says

    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.

    • Amy says

      Try They have cute skirts with longer compression shorts so the thighs are nicely covered.

  12. newlywedsbudget says

    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!

  13. Jaime says

    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!!!

  14. Jessica says

    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.

  15. Alex says

    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!

  16. Sarah Soon-To-Be says

    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.

  17. Miranda says

    Thank you for posting all the helpful tips. I worry about my tummy also and hoping not to stop or even use the port-a-potty’s. My 1st half-marathon I was so nervous I could hardly sleep. I did manage to drink some sleepy time tea on my next half and that help me get the 8 hours of sleep I needed. I’m not religious or anything but I pray before every race for faith & courage.

  18. Elizabeth says

    So I stumbled on your blog looking for tips for the half marathon I’m doing this sunday, which will be my first, and ironically is the same you’re doing, 3M in Austin!

    • Paula says

      Very cool! It’s gonna be a cold one and my cold weather races always go better than the warm ones. I’m looking forward to it. Good luck this weekend!

  19. Jess B. says

    Thanks so much for sharing!!! You did such an awesome job of organizing all the information! I am running my first Half Marathon this weekend! :)

  20. Belinda says

    Ha! I’m running my first half marathon tomorrow morning and found your gem of a site. Brilliant tips, thank you! Now I’m just off to get my kit ready and have a very early night…

  21. Gabriel says

    Peanut Butter might you give “gas” but it works for me and it is not too heavy on me. Peanut butter toast with a banana allows for something to be put the stomach without it being too heavy or demand the restroom right afterward.

  22. Robin says

    Hi, so how much water do you drink every day for that full week before a race? Thanks for your blog!! My next half is in a week! :)

    • Paula says

      If I’m being really good, I’ll fill up a 16.9 oz bottle of water 5 times during the day. It’s hard for me to drink that much water so I always try to get one out of the way first thing in the morning with breakfast. I’ll drink more if I’ve worked out. Good luck at your race!

  23. Wendy Salucci says

    Very well put together and sums it all up in a way we can all relate! I am doing my 10th half marathon in October after being sidelined with injury for 2 years. I am training pretty well and also doing cross fit training and weight lifting at the gym. Chi Running techniques have enabled me to get back into running after my hamstring and knee issues

  24. tom garry says

    I have my first half in one week (8/31). Your tips and fun spirit have changed me from being nervous to excited and feeling prepared. Thanks!

  25. Bethany says

    You did a great job on this list. Get everything together the night before the race, so you are not running around in the morning. Know where the race is, how to get there and where to park. Good luck on your race.

  26. Kellyann says

    Wow, I have just read this and has been a great help, my first half is next week and over here it will be very hot around 30 degrees Celsius!! So I will be hydrating all week. I am also really worried about my stomach I also get a dead foot and have to try and run it help, any advice on this I have tried losening my trainers, but still happens. :)

  27. Lili says

    Thank you so much for your article! My first half marathon is in June. I am legally blind but figured since there will be 4999 other runners, I won’t get lost :-) one question, do you use a fuel belt? Not sure if I feel comfortable having something around my waist or on my back? PRP too funny. I am not fond of porta potties so I am hoping I won’t have to do one or a two during the 13.1 route :-)

    • Paula says

      No, fuel belts move around on my hips too much so I’m not a fan. I don’t notice my Camelbak because it doesn’t move. I do use a belt for my phone/ID if I’m not using my Camelbak. So usually for shorter races like 10ks or 10 milers. I wear it low around my hips so I don’t notice it. Good luck with your half! You must be living in some cooler temperatures to be able to run one in June. Us Florida people don’t know what that’s like. :-)


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