Race Day: How to run a half marathon | 12 of 26 Marathon Series

This is the second of three articles within the marathon blog series, that are are designed to give you some general information about the three most popular distances that people run as part of their marathon training; including the marathon itself. This week’s article is on the half marathon, which is 13.1094 miles (or 21.0975 kilometers).

Why the half marathon?

The half marathon is a great pre-marathon training race for several reasons most notably, because it is the first achievable long distance event and makes a great benchmark distance for your marathon build up; not to mention there are more and more half marathons now appearing in race calendars around the UK.

  • It is generally regarded as the shortest true endurance event – with most mere mortals taking between 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 and a quarter hours to complete; this tests both your physical and mental endurance.
  • It’s a good benchmark on your journey to your first marathon – running half of a marathon gives you some indication of what the marathon will feel like, as preparations, training and race day environment will be fairly similar to the marathon.

Half Marathon tips

  • Pace Yourself – Whether it is your first or even your 50th half marathon pacing yourself correctly can be the difference between good and bad performance; it can even be the difference between finishing and failing. So spend time paying close attention to your pacing in your longest training runs to set yourself a target pace; however don’t get too hung up on this and listen to your body during the race.
  • Split the race up – Again this is about pacing, but split the race into three sections:
    • Start to mile 3; run a little slower than your target pace (around 10 seconds per mile lower than your target pace), this gives your body chance to warm up.
    • Mile 3 to 12; pick up to your target pace, try to relax and focus on your breathing rhythm and think positive (some people use affirmations in their head to help stay strong); focus on a runner or group of runners that seem to be maintaining your pace and aim to stick with them; don’t give up!
    • Final mile+This is where you can make that final push; remember you could still be running for another 6-9 minutes here so don’t go all out as you could run out of steam too soon, but aim to start picking off runners in front of you overtaking one at a time, once you can see the finish line then give everything you’ve got!

It’s worth noting with pacing that every endurance running world record attempt involved negative splits (running the first half slower than the second half), so don’t be tricked by your excitement and adrenaline into starting out too fast.

  • Fuel – Whilst some runners can manage a 10k without additional fuel, very few can make the distance on a half marathon without fueling during the race. So start testing energy gels in your training runs to find one that works for you and take 2-3 gels during the race at roughly 30 minute intervals (starting after 30 minutes). Don’t forget to eat plenty of carbs the day and evening before the race also have a good breakfast and take some energy sweets or a gel about 15 minutes before the race start.
  • Hydrate – Stay hydrated during the race by drinking little and often, avoid gulping a whole drink every few miles and aim to have small sips every mile or so; make sure you have plenty of water an hour or so after breakfast to ensure your are already hydrated for the event. Why not try adding electrolytes to your water to improve hydration (and taste!). You can add these with either energy tablets or energy powders that dissolve in your water.
  • Recover – Possibly the most important thing, if you want to be running again anytime soon. A good recovery not only improves your body’s adaptation to exercise, it also reduces the possibility of injury. So remember to walk around after the race for at least 30 minutes, spend at least 15 minutes stretching and consume at least 50 grams of good carbohydrates within 30 minutes of the race.

Finally have fun enjoy the event and suck in all that atmosphere, you’ve been waiting for this for a long time!

Have you got any more tips for our readers? Share your experience and learnings with us in the comments below…

Here is the next blog article in our marathon series:

13. Race Day: How To Run A Marathon

how to run a marathon - training tips



Ryan has worked in the sports industry since 1999 and has a wealth of experience across most subjects. Ryan holds a BSc in microbiology and has studied sports physiology in great detail in his own time. His main areas of specialisation are: footwear construction, footwear technology, strength & conditioning and anatomy & physiology. He splits his 13 hours a week exercise between, Kickboxing, MMA, Crossfit, Rock Climbing and Running.