How to Choose Your First Half Marathon

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Choosing your first half-marathon How to Choose Your First Half Marathon

You mastered the 5k. You PRed your 10k. You need a challenge. It’s time to find the perfect half marathon. What could be a perfect race for you may not be a perfect race for others. Asking your runner friends for suggestions is a start, but ultimately, you’re the one out there for 13.1 miles (and all the miles leading up to race day.) Choosing something that works for you is essential. Here are some guidelines you can use to determine which half marathon is right for you.


When deciding on a race, you must work backwards. You have to factor in anywhere from three to four months of time for half marathon training. This may immediately limit your race possibilities. For instance, if you live in a colder climate and do not have access to a treadmill, you do not want to race in March because you’d find yourself training in December, January, and February. Similarly, if you live in a warmer climate, you don’t want to run a race in September because your training months would be June, July, and August.

Additionally, the length of the training regimen could influence your decision. If you have school-age children and are a stay-at-home parent, you may struggle to get your mileage in during the summer vacation. If you work full or part-time, you may have to factor in travel for your job and whether or not you can train during that travel.

You will also need one day each week to be a designated “long run day.” For a half-marathon, this can get up to anywhere from 10-12 miles and that can take time. When will you have that time? Figure that out and work backwards to determine what month you want to conquer the half marathon.

Location, Location, Location

If your goal is simply to do a half marathon because they’re awesome and it’s on your bucket list, then you might as well have fun while you’re doing it! Perhaps you should consider a destination race? After I moved from North Carolina to Texas, two of my NC friends and I met up in Charleston, SC for the Charleston half marathon. We made this a girls’ weekend and a race weekend. Win win!

If you can turn a race into a vacation destination, it might mask your pre-race jitters. Imagine how neat a trip with family or friends could be if you ended it with a medal! You might try a Napa Valley race or one in Hawaii. If you have the means, you could make a trip to run one of the many Disney half marathons at Walt Disney World. If you are a female, you might consider one of the “Run Like a Diva” half-marathons. These fun, women’s only races are designed for women who want to run in high style. You get a medal, a tutu, a boa and tiara, and a glass of champagne at the finish line. This stress-free race series has events all over the country. If there is somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t had the chance, why not find a race there and go? I know, for me, there is no better way to tour a city than to run it.

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To Get Swag or Not to Get Swag

For some, the swag that comes with the race entry is an important factor in choosing a half marathon. Smaller races will probably give you a t-shirt in your race packet and a medal at the finish. They will likely cost less and have more of a hometown feel. The quaint atmosphere may appeal to you because you won’t feel lost in the shuffle of thousands of other runners.

If you’re a go big or go home type of person, however, you may want to reconsider a small race. If you want a populous, big experience with a full bag of swag, you need to upgrade your entrance fee and get into a well-known race. The ever-popular Rock N’ Roll Marathon series is a fun first experience. Their race expos are always large and offer lots of shopping and deals. You will get a dri-fit shirt and a medal. If you run more than one race with them, you can even acquire additional medals. The bands along the course are sure to distract you. The headliner concert at the finish line could be one of your favorite bands. If these things are important to you, it is easy to find one of these races near you.

Race Day

Although you can never guarantee good race day weather, you can pick a race that may closely align with your desired race day temperature. Most race websites display an average temperature for race day on their page. If you’re wondering what the best temperature to run a half marathon in is, well that’s personal preference.

The theory is that, for a race, you increase the temperature by about 20 degrees and dress according to that number. If you choose a race that has an average temperature of 45 degrees, assume that it will feel like 65 degrees when you’re out there. Most people prefer running in cooler temperatures since it’s easy to bundle up and shed layers if you must.

Of course there are races that promise much warmer temperatures. Some half marathon veterans view these as a new and exciting venture. As part of a “World’s Toughest Half” challenge, I ran three half marathons in the Texas summer. I can attest that they needed more medics at each race than any other races I’ve ever done. I do not recommend anyone do this for their first rodeo!

The half marathon is an enormously popular distance. You will find so many different race options out there. Think about the guidelines set forth here to decide on your first race. But beware, you just might like your first half marathon so much that you find yourself choosing your second before you’ve crossed the finish line.