I completed my first half marathon in March 2015 in Lisbon, in 2h09m. It was a beautiful run but it would have definitely been better had I been smarter about it. So, I have compiled my main lessons from it in case you want some “tried-tested-didn’t work“ advice.
1) CHOOSE A LOCAL RACE
I would highly recommend that you do a local first half marathon. I decided to make a trip out of mine but couldn’t get there until the afternoon before. I rented a cheap AIRBNB and when I got in that day (at 5pm) it smelled like cigarettes. My asthma immediately reacted but I thought that if I opened the windows I would still manage to sleep. After all, it was just one night.
That didn’t work : I had to find a place to stay in a packed city at midnight. Which meant sleeping only 4 hours before the run. See what I mean? Had I chosen a local race I would have slept in my own comfortable allergy-free bed.
2) BE SENSIBLE THE NIGHT BEFORE
I went out and met friends for dinner because after all I was visiting the city. Some of my friends were not running so I had WAY more then one glass of wine. Again, not the best idea I’ve ever had. If you do decide to gO out for dinner the night before eat something normal (like pasta) and try to avoid alcohol. Oh yeah. I wasn’t vegan back then so I also had SEAFOOD. Smart choices all the way.
3) AT LEAST GOOGLE THE ROUTE
I didn’t check the route before so I had no idea that the race started downhill. It led me to believe that I was going super fast and was invincible, so I forced my pace a lot and then had to push it way back. Which is basically the opposite of what people tell you to do.
4) DRINK WATER
One thing I did right: I had a lot of water, as it was much warmer then anticipated.
5) HAVE A PACER/FRIEND
I also did this one right! I had a much more experienced pacer running with me the whole time. He helped me check my pace at all times, even if I didn’t listen to him at the beginning. He was essential to tell me to keep going on km16. That’s when I started to feel pain on my injured foot and totally freaked out. Maybe without someone to calm me down I would have dropped out. It is also much more fun to run with a friend.
6) FOLLOW A PROFESSIONAL PLAN AND HAVE A SENSIBLE GOAL
My running plan was devised by a professional running coach. He set up an achievable goal of 2h10min. After the messed up start, I tried to follow that plan, which allowed me to have an easy recovery.
7) DON’T TAKE A LOT OF STUFF. DO TAKE SUNSCREEN
I packed my iphone, iPod and sports gel. Those were useless because there was music, entertainment and aid stations throughout the race. The only useful thing I brought was sunscreen even though it wasn’t yet summer. Nonetheless, it was PORTUGAL. So everyone else looked like tomatoes and I looked just fine (aka WINNING)