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The Ultimate Half Marathon Pep Talk For First-Timers

All right first-time half-marathoners, raise your hand if you’re a nervous wreck.

Sounds about right. Don’t worry; the pre-race panic is a rite of passage–and you, my friends, are embarking on one of the scariest maiden voyages of your life. You’re about to run your very first half marathon. But before you do, you have to survive those pre-race nerves.

Sound like a good time? No?

What’s that? You wish you had a time machine so you could go back and convince yourself not to run a half marathon? Well, since time machines don’t exist, grab a seat (and if you’re hyperventilating, grab a paper bag to breath into), because it’s time for the ultimate first-half-marathon, race-day pep talk!

Look, it’s impossible not to be afraid. Running your first half marathon is a terrifying feat! If the anticipation doesn’t kill you, the wall will! (I’m joking! No one is going to die.) But here’s the thing about fear: it’s a good thing. It means you care.

While there isn’t much you can do to make your pre-race fear less paralyzing, there are some things you can do to make sure that your race day goes as smoothly as possible.

Let’s start with logistics.

Rule number one about running a half marathon: Don’t spend time stressing about things you can’t control. Is there rain in the forecast? Snow? An exceptionally warm day? Don’t lose sleep over it.

I know—it’s easier said than done. It’s almost impossible not to lose sleep over the weather—or that weird pain that just came out of nowhere right after you read this sentence. Remember that whatever will happen probably already has.

The day before your race, make your game-day decisions and lay out what you’re going to wear. Expecting a colder morning? Layer up with clothes you can shed and donate at the starting line. If it’s particularly chilly, leave those layers on as long as possible! Should you need to ditch a long sleeve a mile or two into the race, just remember to place it off to the side. Don’t be that person who throws it in the middle of the road for other runners to trip over.

Expecting a really hot day? Stay hydrated, wear a hat and don’t forget the SPF!

Now, let’s talk about checking a bag.

If it’s going to be a cold day, check a bag with a dry sports bra and a warm change of clothes. Trust me, the second you put that dry sports bra on over your bosom will make the hassle of checking a bag worth it. And let’s be honest: With a clean change of clothes, you can forgo the shower and go straight to post-race brunch! If you plan to check a bag, pack it the day before the race so that you don’t have to worry about it in the morning, when your nerves are shot and you’re a hot mess.

Next up—hydration and fuel!

Are you on the fence about carrying your own fluids? Refer to the race route. If you’re comfortable with the hydration the race offers, don’t worry about bringing your own. But if you’ll rest easier knowing you have it with you, BYOSDAOW (bring your own sports drink and/or water).

Let’s talk about the most important and glamorous part of race day: poop.

If you normally drink coffee before your long runs, don’t worry about drinking coffee the morning of your race. If you feel like your nerves along with coffee are a recipe for race-day disaster, ditch the coffee. Try to allocate enough time to wake up, eat and get a couple of trips to the bathroom in before it’s time to leave for the race.

Navigating to the starting line is always a bit overwhelming. Expect traffic, road closures, lots of people moving slowly in the same direction and long portapotty lines. Give yourself enough time to arrive early. Hell, if you want to get really fancy, bring an inflatable toy or yoga mat to lounge on. VIP status!

If your pre-race poop didn’t happen before you left your house, don’t panic. Just give yourself enough time to use the restroom before the race starts. Pro tip: bring your own toilet paper just to be safe. You never know. Don’t have to go? Go anyway.

Once you get to the starting line and into your starting corral, remember to breathe.

There’s no need to warm up if you don’t normally. You may feel crammed into the crowd like a sardine. Don’t panic–just put your patience hat on.

Once the race starts and you finally make your way across the starting line, runners will likely start weaving around you like crazy people. Let them weave. The sooner those people get away from you, the better your race will be. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Now, let’s talk pacing.

Chances are, you’re going to go out too fast. Nerves plus excitement equal a fast first mile. If you can, try to avoid taking off like a cannon. But if you get excited and run a faster first mile, don’t worry! You’ll be okay. Just pull back and find a comfortable pace.

There’s nothing wrong with setting a goal time, but the truth is that your first half marathon will be a learning experience. Remember: This is your race. You call the shots. Give yourself permission to take walking breaks if you need them.

Before you cross that starting line, take some time to define what success and failure means to you.

Even though it may seem like race day is the ultimate test, the truth is that you’ve already won. The hardest part about running a half marathon isn’t the race itself. Running 13.1 miles is anything but easy, but the truth is that the hardest part about running a half marathon is training for one.

Whenever you start to doubt yourself, remember how far you’ve come. I know, it sounds cheesy, but it probably wasn’t long ago that running a half marathon felt impossible. And sure, race day probably still feels terrifying, but you have to know that the only way you’ll fail is if you don’t show up at the starting line. You’ve done the work. You’re ready to rock it. (Just think of race day like a painful–but life-changing–13.1-mile victory lap.)

There’s nothing more intimidating than running your first half marathon. It’s a terrifying emotional roller coaster! But when the doubts creep in, remind yourself of your strength. Then, turn your attention outward. Thank and smile at spectators. Introduce yourself to the people running around you and ask if you can run together. Don’t be afraid to ask for support if you find yourself struggling.

Most importantly, run the mile you’re in.

Whether it’s a good day or a bad day, know that anything can happen when you give yourself permission to have fun. It won’t be easy, but just because something is hard and painful doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. Ham it up for the photographers. Deliver high fives. Trust that you’ll pull yourself away from the mental road blocks. Your attitude is everything.

Trust your training and embrace those pre-race nerves. You’ve worked pretty damn hard to get to that starting line. Regardless of what happens, know that you’ve already won.

No regrets, no excuses.

Until next time, #RunSelfieRepeat.

Related:

The Secret to Enjoying the Struggle of Being a New Runner

18 Things Nobody Tells You About Running

Run Selfie Repeat

Run Selfie Repeat

My name is Kelly Roberts, and I'm the former president of the "I Hate Running Club." No—but really. While struggling to grieve the loss of my brother and maintain a healthy body weight (after losing more than 75 pounds), I thought, "What better way to run from my problems than to actually run from my problems?" Since those painful first runs, I've conquered everything from marathons to 5Ks and haven't looked back. I created my blog, RunSelfieRepeat.com, to inspire others to get active while making them laugh hysterically—because laughing, in my opinion, is the solution to everything. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram (mostly eating cheese burgers, taking selfies with handsome men and terrorizing my sister) @KellyKKRoberts or on my YouTube channel!