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What to Do Before a Half Marathon

Amanda Wendorff

Having your best half marathon run performance is about much more than what you do during the race. In fact, it's your preparation and knowledge of what to do before a half marathon run that sets you up for an excellent finish! From picking the right training plan to eating the right foods, the decisions you make in the days, weeks, and months before the race can make or break your day.

We'll discuss several aspects of the pre-race period in this article. Specifically, we'll touch upon the following:

  • The most important thing you can do before a half marathon to have your best performance
  • How you should taper your training before a half marathon race
  • What to eat before a half marathon, and whether carb loading is advisable
  • What to wear for a half marathon
  • How to warm up for a half marathon
  • Where to line up at the start line of a half marathon

The Most Important Way To Have Your Best Performance: Train For the Race

Without question, the number one most important thing you can do to maximize your performance in a half marathon is to train for the race!

The half marathon distance (13.1 miles or 21 kilometers) is significant, with most new runners taking two hours or more to cover the race course. To avoid injury and ensure that you can comfortably complete the race distance, you should devote plenty of time to training for the race, ideally by following a well-structured training plan.

Adequate training for long-distance events, like a half or full marathon, takes months for most athletes and can take closer to a year for a brand-new runner. To determine just how long you should expect the half marathon training to last, you can use the following calculator, which takes into your beginning fitness and goals.

You can also refer to this article, which takes a deeper dive into the question of how long to train for a half marathon.

To ensure that you feel confident that you've done enough training and the right kind of training, we highly suggest using a training plan designed by an experienced coach. You can find half-marathon training programs written by our world-class coaches, designed specifically for regular people, on the MOTTIV training app.

Should I Taper Before a Half Marathon?

To perform your best in a half marathon, you need to arrive at the start feeling fresh and rested. In addition to good sleep and nutrition in the days leading up to a half marathon, you should taper your training—that is, reduce the time and distance of your workouts.

For most new half marathoners, a good taper lasts 10 to 14 days. During that time, you should gradually reduce the amount of running you do, both in volume and intensity. Most importantly, you should shorten the length of your long run.

In the week before your half marathon, include workouts that:

  • Are shorter than you've been running in your training;
  • As a whole, add up to 40 to 60% less volume than your normal training, and
  • Include some short intervals and bursts of speed to remind your legs of what you'll ask of them on race day.

We've developed a great taper workout for you to try before your next race. Click here for the article.  

Your taper workouts are also an excellent time to test your race day equipment. If you'll be using race-specific running shoes, for example, wear them in one of your final training runs to ensure they fit you well and aren't experiencing any rubbing or hot spots.

For more on tapering for a half marathon, you can check out this article as well. (Note, although the article is about tapering for a triathlon, the running portion is applicable to a half-marathon!)

The Importance of Planning Before a Half Marathon

Once you've put in the training and gotten closer to race day, it's time to start planning ahead and considering all the things you need to do in the days before your race. Several days before the race, sit down and plan out your pre-race time. Make a checklist of items you need so that you don't forget anything essential, and list the things to do the days before the race. Write an agenda for your pre-race time. The more you can eliminate unnecessary stress before your race through planning, the more you'll be ready to run your best race,

Here are some tips to help you think through your big race ahead of time:

  • Travel logistics: If the half marathon is local to you, where is the race, and where are you going to park? What time is the race expo and race registration? If you are doing a destination race, review your travel arrangements. When will you arrive at the race site? How far is the start line from your accommodations?
  • Running gear: Several days or even weeks before your race, think through all the running gear that you will need. Consider your outfit, accessories (like a handheld water bottle), shoes, and race-day nutrition. If you're traveling to the race, make a checklist of all the things you need to pack. If you need to make more purchases, give yourself plenty of time.
  • Food: The day before a half marathon can be stressful—save yourself the additional stress of having to make choices. Plan out your meals for the day before the half marathon and the morning before. If you're planning to go to a restaurant, make the reservation. If you're planning to eat at home or in your accommodation, make sure you have all the food and drink that you need.
  • Race morning schedule: Plan your travel to the start line. What time do you need to leave for the race? What time will you wake up, and when will you have breakfast? How long do you need to get ready?

Taking time to plan is an important part of preparing for a big race. It will help ensure that you arrive at the start line relaxed and ready to race.

What to Eat Before a Half Marathon

When it comes to eating before your half marathon, both your dinner the night before a race and the breakfast you have in the morning play a big role in your performance.

We're including some quick tips below, but if you want to explore the pre-race meals in more depth, refer to our guide, What to Eat Before a Half Marathon. Remember, these are general suggestions. If you'd like more specific guidance that considers your dietary restrictions and health concerns, consult a registered dietitian.

Should I Carb Load Before the Half Marathon Race?

When running a half marathon race, your body will rely on three primary sources of fuel: carbohydrates stored in your muscle cells in the form of glycogen, your fat stores, and any carbohydrates that you take in during the race.

Because the half marathon is fairly long (over two hours for most first-timers), you'll burn through quite a lot of carbs and fats. In order to avoid hitting the wall and ensure that you have sufficient energy to continue running well for the entire marathon, you should increase your carbohydrate intake the day before a half marathon.

However, while you may have heard stories about runners eating mountain-sized piles of pasta the night before a running race, a massive pre-race carb-loading dinner is not the best plan. Rather, you should spread your carb loading out over a few meals, which will allow the body to store the energy it needs without resulting in too much bloating or sluggishness before your race.

For your biggest carb-loading meal, look to your breakfast the day before the race. That meal is an excellent opportunity to load up those glycogen stores with a large plate of pancakes, potatoes, or other carb-rich foods.

Dinner the night before your race should be a bit more measured in quantity. Have a dinner that's centered around carbs but just a bit larger than usual. If you load up on too many carbs, you might have difficulty falling asleep the night before the race or wake up feeling bloated and uncomfortable on race morning.

Some good examples of the dinner to eat the day before a race include:

  • A lean hamburger with a side of sweet potato fries
  • Grilled salmon with a side of rice and some bread
  • A normal-sized plate of pasta and meatballs

Avoid any foods that might upset your stomach, and don't eat new foods that you haven't tested. Right before your race is not the time to get adventurous with your dining!

The night before the race, you should go to bed feeling satisfied but not stuffed. Remember, go with what works best for your body, which won't necessarily be the same as anyone else's!

What Should I Eat The Morning of the Half Marathon?

A common mistake among new runners is arriving at a half marathon without eating breakfast. Whether it's because of pre-race jitters or the early hour, many racers struggle with their pre-race meal. However, racing on an empty stomach is not a good idea! Plan ahead with ideas of foods that you know will work for you on race day.

Instead, have a small, easily digestible breakfast centered around carbs on race morning. Some good examples include:

  • A bagel with almond butter and a banana
  • A small bowl of oatmeal with berries
  • A couple of pieces of toast with a scrambled egg

You should eat this breakfast three to four hours before your race starts. This will give your body time to digest the food, saving you from potential gastrointestinal distress (also known as tummy trouble) during your race.

In addition, 20 minutes before your race, consider eating a sports gel or some sports chews to boost your blood sugar and provide fast-acting carbs for the beginning miles of the race. This last-minute snack can really set you up for success on race day.

What Should I Drink Before a Half Marathon?

Remembering to hydrate is critical; you need to drink! To ensure you're arriving at the start line well-hydrated, sip on a light electrolyte drink between your breakfast and the start of your event. Some good examples of light, electrolyte-based drinks include:

  • Water with Nuun tablets
  • Skratch Labs Sport Hydration
  • Water with Precision Hydration electrolyte tabs

You can find all of these items at, and if you go through that link, you can get store credits every 90 days for life.

If you're a regular coffee or tea drinker, follow your normal beverage routine. These drinks may help get your GI system moving before the race. Scientists have noted that any warm beverage, even hot water, can help stimulate bowel movements, and taking care of that business before your race is always a good idea!

What Should I Wear for a Half Marathon?

We've compiled a lengthy guide to dressing for a half marathon, which you can access here.

But in summary, make sure that the outfit you choose for a half marathon is:

  • Made of sweat-absorbing, sports-specific fabrics
  • Comfortable
  • Appropriate for the weather conditions
  • Tested in training!

If the weather at the start of your half marathon is forecasted to be chilly, you should also consider what to wear in the short time before the start. Many half marathons are quite large, some with tens of thousands of runners, and you'll often have to arrive at the start line quite a while before the race starts. Try to avoid getting too cold in that pre-race time.

For the half hour or so before a half marathon, many runners will wear "throw-away" clothes or warm items that they can toss to the side of the road right before the start or within the first couple miles of the race. If you don't have old clothing that you are alright with discarding, consider stopping into a thrift store or charity store to purchase an inexpensive sweatshirt or long-sleeved shirt.

Also effective in keeping you warm pre-race is the tried-and-true "trash bag" method—find a large trash bag, cut a couple of holes for your head and arms, and use the bag as a makeshift poncho. You won't win any style contests, but you will stay warm.

MOTTIV app user finishes the half-marathon portion of an IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon race.

How Should I Warm Up Before the Half Marathon?

While warming up for shorter races, like a 5k or 10k, is important due to the intensity of the race, the pre-race half marathon warmup is less critical. Many athletes will use the first couple of miles of the race itself as the warmup—a good strategy to ensure that they don't start too fast.

However, if you feel better after a warmup or feel that it helps to ease your pre-race nerves, a short warmup routine like the following can help:

  • A few minutes of dynamic stretching, such as leg swings and walking lunges
  • 5 to 10 minutes of gentle jogging
  • If you want, 2 to 3 repeats of 10 to 15-second strides (short efforts building up in speed). Make sure you fully recover between these repeats.

This short warmup should raise your heart rate and prepare your muscles for a strong effort without creating too much fatigue before the race.

Where Should I Line Up in a Half Marathon?

Unless you are an elite runner, you should avoid starting a half marathon race at the very front.

The best half marathon races are well-paced and conservative at the beginning. The athletes at the front of the race tend to go out very hard - either because they are elite-level runners or not pacing properly. Starting among these "rabbits" may lead you to ruin your race plan in the first kilometer.

Instead, try to start among runners aiming for the same finish time as you. Many half marathoners will have signs indicating the proper starting position for various paces.

Some of the bigger half marathons will also organize formal pace groups. These groups are led by volunteers who will run a steady pace with the goal of crossing at a certain finish time. For example, a large half marathon may have a pace group for runners hoping to finish in 2 hours, as well as one for runners looking to run 2 hours and 10 minutes. If your goal time matches with a pace group, search for the leaders and start near them. If your goal time is between pace groups, they can still give you a good idea of where you should start. For example, if you want to run 1 hour and 57 minutes, look for the 2-hour pace group and line up just a bit in front of it.

Alternatively, ask the runners around you how fast they intend to run. Adjust your position if you're surrounded by runners who are planning to run significantly faster or slower than you.

Regarding which side of the field to choose, it's best to line up on the side of the crowd that is the same as the first turn. For example, if the first turn on the course is a left-hand turn, line up on the left side of the crowd. That said, don't stand all the way to the side, or you could get pinched in or pushed by runners trying to make a sharp turn, which will slow you down.


A lot goes into running a fast half marathon, and preparation and planning should start weeks or even months before your race.

In this article, we've discussed everything you need to do before your half marathon, including some of the most important pre-race strategies to help you run your best:

  • Planning your training
  • Tapering in the final weeks before the race
  • What to eat and drink the day before the race and the morning of the race
  • How to warm up before the race
  • What to wear for a half marathon
  • Where to line up at the start line

Planning ahead before a half marathon can make the difference between an average and an excellent race. Do yourself a favor and focus on all of the things we mentioned pre-race. You'll be glad you did when you finish with a personal best!

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Amanda Wendorff

| Author

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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