10 Tips & Tricks for Running Your First Half Marathon

Health & Wellness

At the end of July, I overheard our in-house photographer, Colleen, chatting about how she had signed up for an upcoming half marathon amongst our Wit & Delight team and I couldn’t help but chime in, “You are going to run 13.1 miles… are you for real?” I couldn’t believe it. I had never run more than 4.5 miles in my life and the sheer thought of doing so was overwhelming, daunting and exhilarating all at the same time, so much so, that it made my head spin. I then immediately told her (without even processing the commitment) that I wanted to sign up too and start training with her.

Oh shit, I thought, as I drove home that evening. What am I doing? Why did I say that?! I don’t even like running.

That night I went for a two-mile run and I’m not going to lie, I felt like a sad panda (that happened to be a chain-smoking panda) the whole time. Legs ached, lungs felt hot and prickly and honestly, it had probably been several weeks since I had run at all. I might look like a runner, but I am not a runner and I was in pain.

For a little background on our race prep, Colleen and I both began training approximately around the same time. The Ely Half Marathon was September 23, and we began training July 24th, exactly two months prior to race day.

Colleen had a pretty strict training schedule ahead of her, which on week one, I had every intention of keeping up with, but truth be told, she is a beast! I couldn’t train the way she did, so I took a little different approach that ended up working surprisingly well for me. To each his own I learned while training for this race.

This was Colleen’s weekly run schedule below that she stuck to pretty religiously even up until race day.

My schedule, which may seem a little disjointed compared to Colleen’s, was mainly based off listening to my body and tuning into what I could and couldn’t handle. I ran two miles the first day and then every other day attempted to up the ante just a bit. On the following Wednesday, I ran three miles and then on Friday I ran four. I took the weekend off and then on Monday I ran four miles again. The thing I quickly learned about running is – “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Later that week I tried for five miles and ended up only running four and a half. A couple days later I went for six miles and vividly remember feeling very sore after that six-mile run and cramping up quite a bit as I showered. For some reason, six miles felt like a lot for me and also like I was about to cross over into the seven-mile threshold which really meant “crossing over” in my mind. I honestly didn’t even hit the seven-mile mark until about two weeks before the race and I recall feeling like I could have gone for longer when I completed that run. And to my surprise, the seventh mile was my fastest mile. I worked in a couple shorter runs in-between later that week, but then decided to try for nine miles just eight days before the race. My original goal was to hit eleven miles before race day and then run the entire thirteen miles for the first time high off adrenaline on race day, but as the race quickly approached I felt like I was running out of time (no pun intended) and knew that I had to get at least nine miles in before the big day.

That night it was drizzling rain in my neighborhood and I set off to run the final nine. At that point, I was running anywhere from a nine-and-a-half to a ten-and-a-half minute mile, which I wasn’t too impressed with. But if there is anything I’ve learned from running, training and seeing other runners out there on the trails doing their thing, is that it 100% does not matter what type of body you have. Runner’s bodies do not always make for great runners. I realized that just because I have an athletic build doesn’t mean I have stamina. I think running is all about inner drive and training. It’s all about conditioning and anyone can do it. The more you want it and the more you train the better and faster you will be. It’s really something you have to work at and put in the time every week if you want to be better. Although I don’t particularly like running, I did gain a newfound appreciation for completing a run, that feeling of accomplishment mixed with an exhausted newfound strength. Or that feeling near the end when you only have one mile left and your runner’s high starts to creep in and flood your body with happiness, endorphins, and complete euphoria. That feels amazing and I still crave those sensations.

During our two month training period, it was also interesting to see what running was doing to both of our bodies. Each day at work we chatted about our workouts and what we were going through. While Colleen claimed to drop weight (I could noticeably see her muscles becoming more toned as her tummy shrunk), I could feel myself gaining muscle at a rapid speed and my pants felt tighter. “Yikes!” I shrieked, I was not expecting that. But it was all part of the training experiment and I was along for the ride.

Finally, it was the day before the race, and as Colleen and I headed up north for the weekend’s race with her boyfriend James and our friend Laura, we all joked about our nervous jitters. I had no idea what to expect and was worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all with my first day of school-like anticipation.

We all awoke at 6 a.m. the next morning and made a small breakfast of coffee and peanut butter toast with banana. In preparation for the long-anticipated race day, we put on our Outdoor Voices gear that we had been training in for the past two months and laced up our new running shoes that we’d gotten fit for at Marathon Sports. I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, I thought.

At this point, Laura had already completed the same half marathon the year prior and Colleen and her boyfriend James had both completed eleven miles. As far as I was concerned, I was at the bottom of the totem pole here. I had completed nine miles. My goal at this point was to keep up with the group because I was apparently the underdog in this story!

When we got to the starting line hundreds of people stood around pinning numbers on their chest, filling their water bottles, and chatting amongst each other with a jittery excitement. The temperature in Ely, Minnesota was somewhere in the mid-60s, it was drizzling out, and surprisingly quite humid. It was a beautiful autumn day.

Everything was ready at this point, my playlist was all queued up, my armband which held my phone in place was strapped on securely, and my Nike Running app (which is so helpful by the way) was raring to go. Oh my god, I thought, here we go!

As the officials counted down from 3… 2… 1… and shot off the racegun, we were off, hundreds of us. Colleen, Laura, James and I had all planned to follow the two-hour fifteen-minute pace marker to set a steady rhythm for the group and so we could all stick together for moral support as we ventured into the unknown!

As the rain softly sprinkled on us I felt my body heating up as we passed the one and two-mile markers. I wasn’t really thinking of anything at this point and I definitely wasn’t checking my Nike Running app to see my times, my head was in a peaceful and calm place. I think just knowing that I had to run every mile helped my brain and body settle into a steady and consistent pace. My eye was on the prize and I knew I needed to step up and rise to the occasion.

As the mile markers drifted by I remember feeling pretty good as we eased into five and six miles. Almost halfway there, I thought. Plus, somehow there was a guy in front of us running with a canoe on his back and I wasn’t sure if I should feel insanely impressed or just plain embarrassed that he was still ahead of us at the six-mile point. As we passed him I laughed to myself.

It was such a beautiful fall day as we paved our way through the town of Ely’s picturesque country roads. Colorful old barns lined the foggy horizon as we ran deeper into the wilderness. It was unbelievably heartwarming to see the entire small town out to support the runners. The family’s cheered as we passed each house and dozens of volunteers handed out water, bananas, Gatorade and other energy drinks. Semi-truck drivers stopped to honk and clap for us, while small children rang bells and held painted signs of encouragement. I remember tearing up at one point at how inspiring and encouraging everyone was on those forest-lined back roads. The support from all the Ely people truly helped to keep us moving and I’m so thankful for them on that day.

As we approached seven miles our little group broke up a bit and everyone seemed to find their own personal pace. As we hit nine miles we conveniently started to hit a considerable amount of hills (for almost the entire nine-mile portion) this was tough. I learned that it was almost easier to run faster up the hills rather than slower. Any slowing down at that point did not seem to help the way my body was feeling.

As I reached the ten and eleven-mile portion I could begin to feel my body shutting down, I had contracted an unexpected side-ache and my knees honestly felt like they were swollen and bursting from the sides. I guess I secretly thought that from nine-thirteen miles my body would coast to the finish line. But truthfully, the last couple of miles were the toughest for me. This just goes to show that with running you really need to put in the time and the miles. I powered through and as I hit the thirteen-mile marker, I found a much-needed boost of adrenaline and inner motivation. I was almost done! I knew I could do it. I was off on my own at this point as I wove in and out of the back dirt roads of Ely, I could almost see the finish line in site.

With one mile remaining, I headed into town with a cheering crowd growing larger and larger on the horizon; I could feel them coaxing me toward the finish line. As I crossed over and slid through the blue ribbon the stopwatch clicked and showed my time at two hours ten minutes which was better than I expected, I smiled to myself that I did it and quickly bent over to catch my breathe and walk it off.

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After completing the race it was interesting how quickly my muscles tightened up, even in the short amount of time on the car ride home. I highly recommend stretching. Within an hour after the race, I was excessively sore and had issues getting up and down the stairs. My fiancé joked that we all looked like little grandmas as we hobbled around the cabin. But after a couple of days, the soreness subsided and all I was left with was the feeling of accomplishment and a long-sleeve navy t-shirt (that I proudly sport around the house as a souvenir) that proclaims Ely Half Marathon 13.1 Mile Finisher.

10 tips & tricks I learned from running my first half marathon that I wish I would have knowN Before Race Day!

  1. Run! This may sound silly, but I read online prior to the race that running is the only kind of workout that can fully prepare your body for running long distances. Only running gives your muscles the kind of strength and endurance they need in order to complete the race. Meaning, any other kind of workout will not help. You need to actually run and put in the time several hours a week.
  2. Stretch. Before and after every run, also stretch even on non-run days. Running, unlike yoga, does make your muscles feel pretty tight if they are not stretched right. I also think stretching and foam rolling helps remove the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles and acts as an important recovery tool.
  3. Invest in high-quality running shoes. I trained my first couple weeks in my Nike running shoes that I later learned were a size too small for me. This caused me a lot of pain and blisters. Did you know that your running shoes are supposed to be a size bigger than your regular shoes? I did not. Now I do! I recommend heading into your local running store and getting a professional fit.
  4. Find the special sauce that motivates you. Mine was hip-hop music and an old nostalgic punk rock playlist. Colleen and Jame’s was listening to podcasts. Find whatever helps you zone out, hone in, and connect with your body to complete the day’s run.
  5. Commit! Pay and sign up for the race. You can do it. I found that fully committing to the race and telling people I was doing it held me accountable.
  6. Find workout clothes that fit right and make you feel good. I’ve always felt like nicer workout clothes motivate me to care more about working out, but honestly, it’s whatever makes you feel good. Colleen and I were excited to wear our new Outdoor Voices apparel. But if you love your vintage high school football t-shirt, wear that too.
  7. Find a running partner or someone to hold you accountable. The fact that Colleen was running every day motivated me to no end. I would tell her when I completed longer runs and she would cheer me on and tell me she was proud of me. I knew she understood what I was going through and just having someone to go through it with was a world of support in its own way.
  8. Find a mental rhythm and don’t get caught up in the semantics of everything. It’s different for each person but sometimes it helps to not think about the overall distance you are running at first, or even how fast you are running in general. Instead, focus on making attainable goals for yourself that work best for YOU. Example, it worked best for me when I said to myself I am going to run for an hour tonight vs. I need to complete six miles.
  9. Don’t wait until race day to experiment with food changes, energy gummies or drinks, test out what works best for you during training.
  10. Don’t overdo it. It’s not worth it to push your body to the brink of injuring yourself. Sometimes when working to build up your tolerance and endurance less is more over a long period of time. But more mileage always equals more endurance in the end, so take your time and put in the work.

Here are also a couple half marathon articles I found helpful:

13.1 Tips for Running Your Best Half Marathon

How to Train for Your First Half Marathon

Have you ever ran a half marathon or full marathon before? I would love to hear your tips, tricks, and stories in the comments below!

Photography by Judith Marilyn

Stefani Ellenbecker is the Editorial Director at Wit & Delight. When she’s not feverishly editing or writing about style and interiors, she runs her bohemian shop  Arden Trading Co. where she sells artisan-made home goods. She lives in Minneapolis with her fiancé Muhamed.


BY Stefani Hodzic - January 15, 2018

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I’m still a long way away from a marathon but this was a great read! Currently thinking of doing a 10k so I think a lot of the tips apply all the same. Thank you! 🙂

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

January 15, 2018 11:57 am

Love this post. I might not be a runner, but all these tips can be applied to any given task you set your mind to.

January 15, 2018 12:13 pm

I ran two times the half marathon. I always found it hard to follow a shedule made by someone else.. so I never followed it.. I think yours would fit me much better. Reading this, makes me want to do it again. On a recent blog post (http://betweensaturdayandsunday.blogspot.be/) I shared my favorite workout-songs (also a lot of hiphop songs).
I totally agree you when you say that a well build body does not make it easier, for some people it goes just more fluent than others (I also think it has a lot to do with breathing and so on,..).

January 15, 2018 12:33 pm

I agree thoroughly that you need to find something to motivate you! I’m a slow runner, so going for hours without entertainment would have been torture! Podcasts saved me during my first half marathon for sure.

Lindsey | This Miss Cooks

January 15, 2018 6:59 pm

I’ve never listened to music (or podcasts, or books) while running before, but for <30 minutes it wasn't a problem. Now that I started training for the half marathon, I'm already pretty bored! Guess I'll have to give that a try!


Cassie N
January 16, 2018 7:36 am

Love this, Stef. The schedule makes it seem doable! The fun workout clothes don’t hurt either 🙂

January 17, 2018 2:55 pm

Congrats, Stefani! What an amazing accomplishment, not to mention an inspiring article. I remember running my first 1/2 and it is by no means easy. I agree with you though, the key is finding something that motivates YOU. No matter how many I run, the feeling of racing (or in my case, slugging) across the finish line makes all the training worthwhile 🙂

February 10, 2018 12:37 pm

congrats on your achievement! i’ve always hated running but reading this post actually makes me want to give it another try, ha! old school hip hop and punk are some of my go-to workout jams, too 🙂

May 4, 2019 7:19 am

Congrats on your accomplishment of finishing a half marathon. The first one isn’t easy, but it can be a very rewarding and motivating experience. My best advice for someone just getting started with the half marathon distance is to start training early, and learn all you can. This article is a great place to get started: https://runningmybestlife.com/survive-first-half-marathon/.

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