Rookie Tips for Running Your First 13.1 (Like a Rock Star)

The Charleston Marathon is here! If you're running your first one this weekend, I've got a few unexpected tips for you—from one rookie to another

The Charleston Marathon is this weekend and if you’re signed up to run your first one (either full or half), I’d say the nerves are probably setting in pretty strongly right about now. As a recent first-time half-marathoner myself, I know what you’re going through. In December, I ran my first one (Kiawah Island Golf Resort Marathon) and proudly earned that shiny finisher medal and post-race aluminum blanket. If you’re a rookie like me, you’ve probably read and memorized all the experts’ tips and advice about race day—you know the ones: don’t try anything new, get a good night’s sleep, remember to hydrate—so I won’t bore you by repeating all that good advice. Instead, here are my tips for enjoying your first half marathon and finishing like a rock star.


-Arrive early. Races are not the kind of event you show up to fashionably late. Most likely, the race organizers furnished a time everyone should arrive at the starting line. Plan to get there even earlier. There was plenty of traffic getting into Kiawah for my race and if the Cooper River Bridge Run of 2012 taught us anything, it’s that you don’t want to be stuck on a shuttle bus come gun time.


-Don’t try to look cool, just run. When the gun went off in my race and we all finally started the slow jog-walk to the start line, I noticed a bunch of people were reaching up and slapping their hand on the start banner as they ran underneath. I thought that looked pretty cool, so I figured I’d give it a try. Only problem was I wasn’t tall enough and completely missed. My hand slapping thin air=not cool. So don’t be lame like me and try any last minute, I’m-cool fanfare. Just do what you came to do: run.


-Appreciate the other runners and make “friends.” Once I’ve settled into a nice pace during a race, I like to take note of those around me running about the same speed. In my half marathon, I ran the first six miles with Pinky and Purple Girl and the last six with Mr. Windpants. I don’t know their real names and did not utter one word to them during the race. But sticking with them for those long miles gave me a feeling of camaraderie in my pain.


-Slow down a bit for the water stations. I made the mistake of trying to speed through the water stations not wanting to lose time. This resulted in most of my water flying out of the tiny paper cup and onto the ground and/or my face—not into my mouth.


-Smile at the race cameras. If you’ve ever seen, you know the importance of this tip. If you want to frame these memories, you best be smiling when the camera snaps.


-Encourage a stranger. One of my favorite parts of my half marathon was around mile 9. I had picked up the pace a bit, aiming for a strong finish, when I passed a gentleman about my parents’ age who shouted at me as I ran by. It was a little hard to hear him over the music I was listening to on my iPod, but I’m pretty sure he said “Nice pace!”(it was either that or “nice ass!”) Either way, I was encouraged, gave him a thumbs up and continued on my merry way.


-Brag away. Once you get your medal and your aluminum blanket, fire up the social media and let the bragging begin. If your extended family across the country doesn’t know about it after all, it never really happened. Slap that “13.1” sticker on your car while you’re at it.


-Thank your cheerleaders. Sure, I only saw my husband for a split second as I ran past him in his viewing spot at mile 10. But that short sighting and his encouraging cheers gave me a burst of energy no amount of Gu would have ever given me. Our family and friends that cheer us runners on are more important than they know. So while you’re basking in the spotlight of the finish, don’t forget to thank those who helped get you there.



-Wear your finisher medal around town. Don’t be ashamed of your new bling once you leave the race location. I wore mine proudly when we went out for breakfast after the race. I got a lot of congratulations from strangers and felt that much more justified devouring a huge stack of pancakes.


-Be glad you didn’t run the full marathon. Those of us on the 13.1 course are only half crazy, after all.