How to Run a Half Marathon

I did it! I ran my first half marathon on December 18th: the ZombieRunner Bay Trail Run in Palo Alto. Here’s my advice on how to run a half marathon and what to wear running for your training and race day.

1) TRAIN

It’s not that hard, really! Since you’re only working up to 13.1 miles, half marathon training programs typically top out at 10 miles, with the majority of your runs falling between 4 and 6 miles. Totally do-able! I used the 9-week Runner’s World half marathon training for beginners and enjoyed almost every week of it. Week 5 was a bit tough for me, but it was great to have a schedule to stick to, which prompted me to try out new trails. Here’s a peek at some of the beauty I encountered, though the swampy meadow of the bottom middle photo was quite miserable.

2) SHOW UP PREPARED

I did pretty good. I woke up early in San Francisco, grabbed a healthy breakfast of oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg at Starbucks, and then drove the 40 minutes down to the race in Palo Alto. I got there early enough to get great parking, pick up my bib, queue up my iPhone with music and my running app, and have time to spare to do a warm-up jog and stretch. Though due to all this leisure time, I did hit my water bottle a bit too hard and had to pee about a mile or two into the race. Next time, I’ll save most of my hydration for the night before.

One thing to think about is your pre-race garb. I wore my Loki glove liners and Patagonia Down Sweater pre-race to stay warm. It was chilly out! Some folks only had shorts and short-sleeves, and they were hurting.

Also show up with whatever fuel you need to make it through. I did that, but didn’t eat my standard Sharkies opting instead for a Clif Shot at one of the aid stations. That caffeine-laced goo did a number on my belly and I had to suffer the final three miles with a stomach ache.

Another thing is to think about any essentials that might go awry. For me, it was a hair tie. Mine broke after I tried to tighten it a couple miles in. I was able to knot the elastic back together and have a loose ponytail to get me through. Otherwise, I would have been scoping out all the ladies’ wrists that ran by to look for an extra. No one wants to run a half with hair flopping around like a horse.

3) DRESS WELL

Dressing well is finding that perfect combo that fits your body temp. It’s not a good idea to overdress for the race. You want to feel as light as possible and not have a bunch of layers to stow away later, so a bit of starting-line cold must be endured if you’re running a fall or winter race.

For my late fall/winter trail half marathon, here’s what I wore race day and during training in Tahoe and Reno:

RACE DAY: Patagonia Capilene 1 T-shirt, Patagonia Capilene 1 longsleeve, which I tied around my race a couple miles in, Mountain Hardwear Power Effusion Tights (these things are awesome, lightweight with a waterproof thigh for when the weather turns), SmartWool PhD Outdoor Ultra Lite Mini Socks, Patagonia Tsali trail running shoes, Salomon XR Sensibelt to carry a bit of water, my phone/music and a snack, Lole shirt for post-race outfit change to beat the chill.

TRAINING ESSENTIALS: Icebreaker BodyFit 260 merino layer (a bit warmer/thicker than the Patagonia one I wore on race day), Mountain Hardwear Effusion Hooded Jacket (a great waterproof/breathable layer for running in rain, sleet and snow), Lole Finalist Tights, Lole Glorious Tights (both a bit thicker than the Mountain Hardwear ones I wore on race day).

And that’s it. It’s quite a simple plan that’s achievable for any level of runner, and the half marathon training was enjoyable. 13.1 miles could be finished in the time limit even if you have to walk, so find a race in your area and do it!

If you have any tips on how to run a half marathon, let us know in the comments.



I'm Tahoe Mountain Sports' web editor and a 6-year Tahoe resident. Yep, I live the life, with a lake view from my desk, lunch breaks on the beach with my dog, and morning powder runs when the snow's good. I ski, snowboard, skate ski, and cross-country ski in winter, and hike, mountain bike, backpack, and lay around on Tahoe's beaches in summer.


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