What To Expect Running Your First Half Marathon – Mile by Mile!

You signed up for your first half marathon and race day is slowly approaching. You’re starting to get nervous and maybe a little anxious over the feat you are up against come half marathon race day.

As of this writing, I have completed 17 half marathons. Some of them at terrific finish times and some of them simply logged as completed long runs. This is completely my perspective of what to expect during a half marathon race. Some runners will have 100% different experiences than I did.

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For those of you who are struggling to get the courage to run and complete your first half marathon, I hope this little peek into what to expect gives you some much-needed motivation. Just think of this as your free half marathon mile-by-mile analysis from a certified running coach.

Race Week Leading Up To Race Day

It’s time to prepare for race day! Today starts off the last week leading up to my half marathon race on Saturday. If you’ve trained hard, you’ve run quite a few long runs at a distance close to and above 10 miles. I’ve also been trying to lose some of my extra weight before race day. This is the week when it’s time to put on the brakes and coast into your race day. It’s time for your body to rest up, get good nutrition, and prepare your mind for race day. If you were dieting during your race this is the week to bump up your nutrients and substitute some of your fruits and vegetables for carbohydrates such as pasta.

6 days before my first half marathon – Sunday 

My last long run was yesterday, which was 12 miles at a good steady slow pace. It’s been extra humid for this time of year and my long runs, to say the least, have suffered in performance. That’s ok because hot weather conditioning for your training will make a better race-day performance. If your race day is substantially cooler, you will get even more benefits from training in hotter weather.

Yeti Tumbler 2

5 days before my first half marathon – Monday

Rest. I am still letting my muscles rebuild from Saturday’s long run. Remember that your muscles don’t build when you are running only when you are recovering which takes 24-48 hours.

5 days before my first half marathon –Tuesday

I run approximately 3 miles at an easy-medium pace. I do not push myself at all this week. This week is designed to taper you into race day.

3 days before my first half marathon – Wednesday

Last official run before the race. This run is extremely light-footed and technology-free. I run just for the fun of it and I try not to bring along any music as well. I typically will not push past 2 miles.

2 days before my first half marathon – Thursday

Rest. I don’t cross-train or run. I will, however, go for an easy walking stroll for a distance of 1 to 2 miles.

Related: What Happens To Your Body When You Walk More?

1 Day before my first half marathon – Friday

I might go for a half a mile to one mile extremely slow run – zone 2 (60-70% MHR). The only reason I would run would be if I am feeling a bit on edge about the race and need to shake out a winding up of too much energy. I strongly don’t recommend running at all this day, especially for new half marathoners. I only share this with you because some of us need to let a tiny bit of gas out of the engine or we might go bonkers.

Bonus: Schedule a massage. If you don’t have time for a full body massage then get in a leg massage. This will work wonders for your race and help you relax physically and mentally before race day.

Here is a great post that covers this in more detail: 5 things you should do race day week.

Don’t forget your gear bag for the events before and after the race:

What should I put in my race gear/kit bag?

Don’t forget to check out: Racecourse Etiquette – 15 things you should never do in a race.

Race Day – Saturday

Race day has arrived.  It’s time to wake up and eat your calories for race day (If you don’t know what your pre-race meal should consist of and how many carbs you need to check out this post: what should you eat before a half marathon race.) Dawn your gear and hit the door. Don’t forget your race fuel! Make sure that you’ve gone over your checklists for race day.

Sometimes race day can get your nerves shooting through the roof. Try to relax, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breathing. Here are 5 ways you can easily boost race day motivation.

The images from this race are from my recent 17th half marathon at the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth Texas.  I have run the Cowtown half marathon 5 times since I started running half marathons.

Make sure you’re wearing the right gear for the right weather

If it’s raining you’ll want to wear a waterproof rain jacket for runners and maybe rain booties for your shoes. If it’s cold you’ll want to dress in layers plus wear a hat and gloves.

Compression socks are also popular among many runners. Although there lacks complete scientific evidence in their use and practicality, many runners swear by them. I have worn compression socks during many long runs and half marathon races. My calves don’t feel as tight and sore when I wear them.

Are you still wondering to put your phone when you run, check out this post on where to put your phone while running your race?

For an altogether post about what to wear at a big race check out this post:

What Should You Wear To Your Marathon Races?

The Warm-Up

If this is your first half marathon and you’re not running at an all-out pace, (for example, a finish time of 1:20) I don’t recommend that you warm up with a jog. Instead, try to walk anywhere from a mile to 2 miles before corralling and lining up for the race. A great tip to get in your walk is to park about a mile from the race. You’ll get your walking in before arriving at the vendor tents and starting line.

First-time, slower half marathoners should conserve their energy for the race. If you would rather jog instead of walk, do so at a recovery-run pace. Again, this is for first-time half marathoners. Seasoned runners will be warming up with 1-2 mile faster pace runs before the race.

Pre-race – Corraling

Some races have Corrals while other races simply line up at the starting line. Corral are groups of runners that are separated by a time length to help offset the volume of people that would otherwise clog the streets. Corals are based on finish times which can then be broken down to a pace. Some races go by pace, other races go by finish time. they are both the same in the end. If you’re unsure of what your actual pace will be you’ll need to guess your pace as close as you can. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in the last tier (slowest corral) and be the last to finish up the race.

When you’re standing in the starting line I like to keep my legs moving a little bit, back and forth. If there is room in the coral I will slowly walk back and forth and shake out my leg muscles.

Water Consumption On The Course

I normally run with a 2 Liter (68 ounces) waterpark (click here for my hydration pack review) during half marathon races and greater distances because I like to space out my drinking consistently over the racecourse. I normally during anywhere from 4 to 5 gulps which about 4 to 5 ounces each mile.

Some runners choose not to bring or carry water during the half marathon which is also fine. There are usually at least 4 water stations on the course. You will want to drink about two cups of 4 ounces of water (8 oz total). If you’re lucky they will have 12 fl oz water bottles. I try to drink at least 4 bottles of water (12 fl oz. x 4 = 48 fl oz of water)

1 liter = 34 fl oz (approximately)

2 liters = 68 fl oz (approximately)

How much water each runner needs Is determined by how much you sweat out. Every person is different in how much fluid they actually sweat out.

Some of these water aid stations will also have pickle juice which may aid in preventing leg cramps.

Are You Considering Walking The Entire Half Marathon

Many race entrants have the desire to run at all during the half marathon race which is perfectly fine, however, you’ll need to start in the back of the starting line with the strollers. Here are a few of my posts just for walkers that will help get you up to speed on what to expect pace-wise:

Can I Walk During A Half Marathon? 11 Reasons To Walk A Half Marathon.

Can I Walk A Half Marathon In 4 hours?

Is Walking Better Than Running?

What is the Run-Walk Method? (hybrid walking with running)

Finish Time (chip time)

I’m going to use the finish time of 131 minutes (2 hours 11 minutes) which is a 10:00 minutes/mile pace) for the example below. This finish time was close to my first half marathon finish time of 2:09:32

Motivation – Music

My biggest motivator for half marathons is my music playlist. I personally love EDM (Electronic Dance Music) the music is full of energy and it keeps me going through the race. If you’re looking for a great pair of earbuds that don’t fall out when you’re running check out my earbud review. I personally love and use the Jabra Elite Active 75 (although the Jabra Elite 85t is a better bang for your buck.


My Jabra Active Elite 75Ts

Half Marathon – Mile 1

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 1


You’re telling yourself that anything is possible and maybe even questioning why you signed up for the race. Everything will work itself out. Stick to your training and everything will go as planned.


Your body is pumped with adrenaline, energy, and elevated anxiety. Your feet are moving and they might be moving too fast. Nerves are cranked up about to jump out of your skin and your feet keep running at a faster than normal pace. Slow down to the pace you’ve trained for.

Half Marathon – Mile 2

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 2


You’ve reached the second half marathon mile marker and your mind is relieved that you’ve at least made it one mile. Your mental energy is still pumped and you remain laser-focused onto mile 3.


You start to slowly pass some slower runners on the way to mile 3 (or are you the runner that started out too fast…I hope not). Your speed is consistent and your pace sees no sign of dropping off at mile 2.

Half Marathon – Mile 3

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 3


Mile 3 is an important milestone for your head. You’ve just powered on through the 5K checkpoint of 3.1 miles. Your head starts to calculate the remaining distance and instead of thinking that you have only 10 miles left. My mind Immediately thinks that I have more than three 5Ks still ahead of me.


Your body wants to take a tiny walk break because you’ve just finished a 5K. However, it’s time to seriously slow down your pace to your half marathon race pace (if you started too fast out of the starting line) because you still have over 10 miles to go.

Half Marathon – Mile 4

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 5


Your mind has slowed down your body and quelled the adrenaline pumping through your body. Time to start visioning yourself crossing the finish line with no problems at all. if you have a mantra to chant, it’s now time to find it and get it ready for the road ahead.


You’ll start to notice runners walking between mile 3 and mile 4 for a short amount of time. These are normally the runners that got in way over their heads and were able to finish the 5K but have puttered out. They lack the increased glycogen storage and aerobic cardiovascular fitness that you build up during training on the long runs.


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Half Marathon – Mile 5

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 5


Mile 5 should be treated as a pace and cruise mile, enjoy the scenery and practice chanting your mantra. Any mantra will do.

Example Mantras:

“Don’t Stop, Don’t Quit!”

“Just keep moving”

“Legs move, arms swing”


You’re coming up on mile 6 and your legs should still feel strong if you’ve trained properly. Mile 5 is a great time to perform a body and running form check. Drop your shoulders to release the tension. Running tense will do nothing more than reduce your energy faster. Nice easy arm swings from the side to below the rib cage on each side. If you’re running as a linebacker with arms raised up to block – drop your arms to your side immediately. No slouching neck forward either – this creates inefficient oxygen flow for your aerobic running state (aerobic meaning with oxygen).

Half Marathon – Mile 6

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 6


You’re slowly approaching the halfway point of the race, 6.55 miles (10.54 kilometers). This is a good time to check your time at the halfway point because you guess within 5 to 10 minutes what your finish time will be. Your mind is relieved you’ve made it halfway.


You’re slowly approaching the energy deficit zone of 90 minutes when almost all of your energy is about to dwindle away. Now is the right time, unless you decided to take your gels earlier in the race which is perfectly fine, to pop that energy gel (click here for my energy gel review – my favorite are Huma) and wash it down with water. It takes 10-15 minutes  (maybe longer) for your body to assimilate the energy for your body to use. Some individuals like caffeine in their energy gels, others don’t, the only way is to experiment for yourself (but don’t experiment today – this is best done during training).

Half Marathon – Mile 7

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 7


Your mind is thankful that you are now past the halfway point of the marathon. It’s now less than halfway to the half marathon finish line so you can start thinking of how many miles you have left at this point. 6.1 miles (less than a 10K).


Your body and legs should still be relatively strong at this point. Your energy levels are reaching the point of exhaustion. If you ate a decent meal prior to the half marathon race you shouldn’t notice any energy drops yet.

Half Marathon – Mile 8

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 8


5 miles left to race. You’ll need to start chanting your mantras at this point.


If you have Clif Shot Bloks (30 calories each) you might go ahead and slip one in your mouth for a tiny boost of energy. Keep your legs moving even if you’ve slightly slowed down at this mile.

Half Marathon – Mile 9

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 9


You’ve reached the 9th mile and your mind might be struggling to keep complete focus on the race. A lack of focus is usually associated with a loss in blood sugar (energy). Mile 9 might be the hardest mile of the half marathon because your energy levels are falling off a cliff and you haven’t rolled over to double-digit miles yet. Stay mentally strong and keep chanting your mantras.


It’s time to eat another 22-25 gram energy gel (100 calories). You need to try to repeat this about every 25-35 minutes for a continuous and study bumping of energy. Mile 10 is just up ahead.

Half Marathon – Mile 10

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 10


Q: How do you spell relief?

A: Mile 10

You’ve reached the double-digit marker. Only 3.1 miles left (5K). It’s all downhill from here.


Your next energy wave from the energy gels should give you a needed jolt to keep your legs shuffling along to mile 11.

Half Marathon – Mile 11

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 11


Your mind wants to slow down but you must keep pushing yourself along. Only 2.1 miles left. Mile 11 will mentally start testing you at half marathon race pace.


Your legs are starting to feel slightly heavy. This is a good time to go ahead and take another energy gel if you have one for the final legs of the race.

Half Marathon – Mile 12

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 12


Oh man, only 1 mile left. You can start to taste the finish line and all of its soon-to-be glory. Your mind gives your body an ultra boost here knowing that you are almost done.


Your mind is thankful that your mind is providing your legs motivation to get this race done and pronto!

Half Marathon – Mile 13

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon mile 13


Less than 0.1 miles to go. You can taste the sweet smell of victory right around the corner. Your mind kicks into gear again – on to the finish line.


Time to kick your legs into overdrive. Get yourself nice and primped for the picture. Smile real big when you cross that finish line. Try to pass one more person in the final stretch…it feels good!

Half Marathon – Finish Line

You’ve made it to the finish line. What a glorious sight! Don’t forget to immediately start refueling with liquids and carbohydrates (protein is a bonus). Keep moving around for another mile or at least 10 minutes before stopping or sitting down. Your legs need to cool down and begin recovering as much as possible and the best way is to keep walking.

After you’ve stopped moving altogether, you can lie on the ground and elevate your legs up against the wall. This helps force the blood to keep circulating out of your legs and fresh blood to be pumped into your legs. Plus it feels good.

What To Expect Running Your 1st Half Marathon - finish line



17th Half Marathon Race Finish Photo

Half Marathon Post-Race

Half Marathon Recovery

Just as important as the race, it’s time on winding down for about a week until you take up long-distance running again. Here is a detailed article of what you need to do starting immediately after your half marathon race.

Recovery Day 1- Sunday

The day after the race, some of us like to go for a recovery run. Recovery runs are extremely easy on the body that helps loosen up the legs slightly and move around your facial tissue to prevent extended soreness. This is optional and some of you won’t be able to run at all the next day. Try to at a minimum walk a few miles and do some light stretching after walking.

Recovery Day 2 thru 7

Are you continuing on to a marathon race? If so there’s not too much recovery involved except what is already baked into your marathon training plan. If you’re taking a short break then continue to run with minimal effort. I wouldn’t run anything over 6 miles from days 2 through 7. Remember to walk as much as you want to. The key here is to repair your muscles from the half marathon race. You might find your leg muscles feel better if you elevate them for 10-15 minutes against the wall with your back flat on the ground.

Recovery Day 8+

Hopefully, your body is well on the way to recovery. If your legs are feeling good and you’re mentally rested, you can start running 6 miles and longer. If you attempt to run 6 miles at your normal base mile pace and you get winded easily, your body might not be ready to tackle the longer miles yet. Remember to take it easy when shifting your body back into your longer running sessions and your speed and tempo work.

Related: How To Start Running Again After Taking A Long Break

More Half Marathon Tips

Check out my post on 102 half marathon training and racing tips.

Are You Looking For A Half Marathon Training Schedule?

12-week/15-week beginner half marathon training plan (free sign up required)

8-week beginner half marathon training plan

8-week intermediate half marathon training plan (easily run a 5K)

4-week advanced half marathon training plan (already run 6+ mile long runs)

Half marathon walking training plans complete with pacing charts

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Coach Scott's Credentials: He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 17th half marathon race. 

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What To Expect Running Your First Half Marathon - Mile by Mile!

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