How To Pick Your First Half Marathon

Picking your first half marathon

For many first-time half marathoners, picking their first race is simple. There is a home-town race or a race they have always dreamed of doing. But for others, it can be a surprisingly hard decision.

If you don’t know which race you want to do, how do you decide?

Picking Your First Half Marathon

To stay inspired and motivated during training, it is important that you have a meaningful race to look forward to. What should you consider?

Picking First Race


Do you want your first race to be close to home or do you want an amazing racecation in a new and exciting destination?

Local half marathons can be a great way to see new neighborhoods in your own town. I’d lived in my current home of Oakland for years when I first did the Oakland Half Marathon. Pretty much the whole race takes place in neighborhoods I’d never seen before.

Racecations in far away locales are also a great way to see a new place, but with any destination race comes additional travel expenses and the added logistics of not knowing the course and having to find the race expo.

Racecations also can also make pre-race rest, nutrition and fueling more difficult. Staying rested and hydrated in the days before a half marathon can be a challenge under the best of circumstances. While traveling in a new place it is that much harder.

I have run the Las Vegas Marathon and Half Marathon many times over the years. During the various iterations, I’m pretty sure I’ve visited bathrooms in every casino in Vegas while trying to stay hydrated.

The Course

You should also consider elements of the course itself.

  • What do you want the course profile to be? Hilly? Flat? Urban? Rural?
  • What kind of moral support do you want on the course? Lots of spectators? Bands? Cheerleaders?
  • What type of course do you prefer? A loop? Multiple loops of a shorter course? Point to Point?

There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions, but to have the best experience possible, consider your preferences and plan accordingly.

If you haven’t done many races, try running a few 5k or 10ks with different course types and characteristics. You will soon get a sense of your preferences. I know I hate courses that are multiple loops of a shorter course. Other runners hate out and back courses where you see the faster runners coming back the other way.

To each their own.

When you know the type of course your race will be, adjust your training accordingly. For example, if you registered for a hilly race, incorporate an appropriate amount of hill work into your training.

Course Time Limits

If you are a slower runner or run/walker, look into how long the course is open and what happens to runners still on course at that time.

After a course ‘closes’ some races pull runners off the course and they are not allowed to continue. Other races let runners continue, but they need to move to sidewalks. Finishers after the time limit may or may not be considered ‘official’ finishers and may or may not get a medal or other finishers swag.

Each race handles it differently.

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Registration – Can You Get In?

The worst of the registration lottery craziness hasn’t hit half marathons (yet), but half marathon registration lotteries are getting to be more common, especially for high-demand races like any of the Disney half marathons.

There is no guarantee that you can get into the race you want to do. Before you plan too far ahead, research the registration process for your target race.

  • Is there a registration lottery?
  • If there is a lottery, what is the timing of it?
  • Would the timing of the lottery impact your training?
  • If there is a lottery, do you have a plan-B race if you don’t get into your target race?


What time of year do you want your race to be?

Considering when the race is, when will the bulk of your training be? If you are targeting a fall race, remember that your longest training runs will take place in the hottest days of late summer. Spring races potentially mean cold, rain, and snowy training.

How much time do you need to train?

If you have been running for a while, race-specific training should take 2-3 months. If you are new to running, an additional time cushion should be built in to get your running base up.

Make sure you have enough time to train properly before race day.

How ‘You’ Is It?

If your target race has a theme you enjoy, supports a charity you care deeply for, or is in a location you adore, that can give you a much-needed boost during training.

Disney runs can be great for this. Pick a theme: princesses, Star Wars, Marvel superheroes, whatever your preference, they have a race for it.

Love wine? A half marathon in a vineyard can fill the bill. Love the Green Bay Packers football team? The Green Bay Half Marathon (starting at Lambeau) may be just the ticket.

During training, it is common for your enthusiasm to start to fail you a bit. When your race is so very you, you’ll only have to think about it to give you a little pick-me-up.

What about you? What considerations do you have when picking a race?

Picking your first half marathon


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