Running a half marathon is a huge victory that is on many runner’s bucket lists. And while half marathon training, many start to wonder what to expect during their first half marathon.
There are countless articles giving tips and providing personal accounts of what it’s like to run that half marathon distance for the first time. But no one talks about what really is going down when in that mileage.
The runner is a ball of nerves at the starting line and exploding with pride and a sense of accomplishment at the finish. But in between that sandwich is the meat—the actual hard work, perseverance, muscle strength, stamina, and endurance.
And the first mile vs the last mile of race is completely different. But ironically very much the same.
In It For The Long Run
The first mile of a half marathon is the easiest. The first mile of a half marathon is the hardest.
It just depends on the runner.
Because of the excitement, it’s easy to just take off and start to take in just how big this moment is. After weeks of training, it’s finally race day and you have just started your first half marathon.
There is so much energy thanks to spectators and runners surrounding you. You feel part of this larger moment in this sea of people, yet still just begun an individual quest to head off into the distance and make it back to shore.
Depending on the size of the event, there might be some traffic jams of runners which leads to a slower pace. This is great to make that first mile a warm-up to get the blood pumping and body loose.
Don’t freak out over time.
There is plenty of mileage to make up for a few slower minutes. It’s better to start slow and preserve energy for when the body is loose and ready to push it.
At the same time, many runners do the opposite and shoot off too fast. All that excitement pent up is released and you are off. Since it’s literally the first mile of the race, you probably are feeling great and feel like you are unstoppable for the next 13.1 miles.
Then you reached the end of the first mile already out of breath, tired, and left wondering if this whole race is even possible.
The biggest piece of advice is to try to pump the brakes and take the time to soak it all in. The rest will fall into place.
What To Expect Mile One
Feelings: excitement, nervousness, anticipation
It’s easy to overthink things and worry in the beginning. Don’t. Trust in the training. The work is already there. You just need to stay focused on the moment and concentrate on each mile at a time.
Physically: The first mile you are either slightly stiff and tense from the emotions or loose enough to take off. Either way, think of mile one as exactly that—just the first mile.
Take your time through it, sticking to as close as the target pace as possible but allow yourself to get to that target pace throughout the mile. Don’t jet off. Think of it as slowly building until on pace and ready to rock the next miles.
Also, expect there to be lots of extra boosting thanks to the crowd, but this will fizzle out by the end of mile one. There is no need to fumble with water or hydration. Just get into a steady rhythm and enjoy this first mile.
All Good—And Hard—Things Come To An End
The last mile of a half marathon is the easiest. The last mile of a half marathon is the hardest.
After putting in all that hard work, finally, an end is in sight. It might not physically be in sight just yet but knowing you are on the mile is a major confidence boost. You (nearly) did it, so there is no stopping now.
It doesn’t matter how tired legs are. Somehow, runners manage to find the inner strength to push through to the end. And even finish strong.
This is thanks to that burst of endorphins. And the feel-good feeling continues and increases with every step as you getting closer to finishing that line.
Don’t be deceived though, there is still 1.1 miles of work left. That last mile can be tough both physically and mentally. One mile sounds just as short as it sounds—and feels—long.
It takes a whole lot of grit to buckle down and reach out deep to be able to keep one foot in front of the other going.
The biggest tip here is don’t stop. Don’t walk. Walking and then starting to run again only feels more painful and hard to do. It feels like starting over.
If you need to slow the pace down, do so. Even if it feels like a slow jog, that’s better than stopping. The finish line lies ahead. Just keep going.
And then before you know it the finish line comes into sight and it’s like everything just melts away. There is no doubt, soreness, pain or fatigue. Happiness covers you like a blankets, hugging you tight form the insides, warming you until you are beaming from ear to ear.
It’s an extraordinary moment like nothing you have ever experienced. It smells, sounds, and tastes like victory. Savor every second of it because it fades so fast.
Yet you will always remember how it feels to cross that finish line in your first half marathon. And the feel-good vibes will linger like the best hangover ever.
What To Expect In The Last Mile
Feelings: Doubt, fatigue, uncertainty, anticipation, excitement, pride, happiness, bliss.
Physically: The body is probably tired at this point, but adrenaline does kick it towards the end. Make sure to time energy chomps or gels right so that there is no bonking during that last 20-to 30-minutes of running.
It’s more of a mental game to continue to keep moving forward. It can feel like you are so close yet so far.
Yet you will be able to soon feel the buzz of energy once the end is in sight. It’s an emotional time that last mile, much more so vs. the first mile since you know that you did it.
Then there is the prolific moment of crossing the finish line and the rest is history. You completed your first half marathon!