7 Tips For Running Your First Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon

So you’re getting ready to run your first Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon!! Woo-Hoo! Let me give you a few tips to make it a great weekend for you.

Before I give you the tips, let me tell you who I am and who these tips are for.

My name is Rich, I’m 48, and I’ve only been running for 2 1/2 years at the time I’m writing this. I’m not writing this for the person who is looking to run this race at 8:00 min/mile or less. Although you can learn something here, these tips are meant for the runner who is most likely going to finish at 9:00 min/mile (2 hours) or more… maybe much more than that.

I’ve run three of these Rock-n-Roll half marathons now. By no means am I an expert, but I’ve learned enough to share with you some things you will want to know.  I’ll share a few things I did in my first race that made it a tough race for me… that by the time I ran my 3rd race, I had fixed and had my best Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon.

This is also not about how to physically prepare for your first Rock-n-Roll half marathon. There are plenty of books, training schedules, shoe guides, etc. This is about getting ready for your race weekend.

So, let’s get going!

Tip #1 – Make sure to arrive early enough to enjoy the expo.

I like to hang around the expo for 1-2 hours. There are lots of things to see, sample, win, and buy. You begin to soak up the environment and the excitement for the build up of the race. There are at least 100 exhibitors that you can wander through and see what they have to offer. I usually come home with a nice size bag of free stuff.

You need to get to the expo, anyway, to pick up your race number and your shirt.  One word of caution – do not try and sample the food from all the different booths. The last thing you want is for something to not agree with you and have intestinal issues while you’re trying to run the next day.  Save the free food to sample after you race.

Tip #2 – Parking on race morning will take longer than you think.

This applies if you are local or are driving in on the day of the race, and you’re going to be using the shuttle to the start line.

Here is my rule of thumb – get to the parking lot at least 2 hours before race time, if not more. Everyone else waits until the last minute and the backup into the parking lot can take you an hour or more if you’re not there early.  My last race at the Dallas Rock-n-Roll, I left home at 5:45, got to the parking lot, and kicked back and rested and relaxed in the car until it was time to catch the shuttle.

Being late adds stress. You don’t need that or want that. Getting there early allows you to rest, eat your breakfast, prepare, and get to your starting corral stress free. This is probably one of the big things even veteran racers neglect.

Tip #3 – Have a Ziploc baggie with pre-race essentials (I think I’m the only one who does this).

Here’s a tip that I may be exclusive to.  Get a Ziploc sandwich bag and carry it with you to the start line.  In this baggie, put toilet paper, sunscreen, chapstick, a GU energy gel, a honey stick, or anything else you use to prepare.

You are going to want to be near your corral at least an hour before start time. You will probably be using the porta-pottie.  At my second Rock-n-Roll half, every porta-pottie ran out of toilet paper. I had my baggie and had no problem. Think of all the runners who had no paper… and yuck! how that made them feel to run the race that way.

I will do a GU energy gel and a honey stick before the race to give my energy level a boost. You may not need the other items. Then, as you approach your starting corral, throw the baggie away.

Tip #4 – Getting to your starting corral.

One big thing that is different between your practice runs and race day – you will be standing around for about an hour waiting to start, if not longer. Unless you are shooting for a record time, I have not found a need to get to my corral early.

If you can sit on the side somewhere, relax, soak in the atmosphere, you’ll be better off. With about 15-20 minutes before start time, I make my way to the corral. I still get in a good position. Don’t stress out about getting in there early. I feel it’s more important to stay off your feet.

Tip #5 – The race will be crowded… very crowded.

I was not ready for this on my first race. The San Antonio Rock-n-Roll had about 25,000 runners I believe. I was used to going out on my practice runs by myself, maybe see an occasional runner. I wasn’t ready to run with 25,000 other people.

My biggest mistake was trying to bob-and-weave throughout the crowds. I was up on the sidewalk, going left and right, passing people every way I could. I ended up running as much sideways as I did forward. By the time I got to mile 9 or 10, I was exhausted. I hit a wall. I felt like I crawled the last few miles.

Think of it this way – it is like trying to run 13 miles through Six Flags or Disney World with the crowd everywhere.

However, I mastered this with one learned reality – patience.  I stay to either the left or right or right side of the road. I rarely run in the middle of the road. Slow your pace and wait for people to move, and then pick up your pace again. There will always be walkers. Just be patient and move around them.

Usually around mile 3 things begin to flow better. At the Dallas Rock-n-Roll, it flowed very nicely after mile 3. At San Antonio, a much more crowded race, it took about 5-6 miles for things to flow.

Just be prepared to run a patient, smart race. Don’t bob-and-weave!!

Tip #6 – Stay hydrated and fueled.

This is one of the more asinine pieces of advice you read in Runner’s World and other running publications. They say to do an energy gel about every 45 minutes or so.  That may be true for all the little toothpicks running around out there, but I require more fuel.

You will be burning more energy during the race than you normally burn during your practice runs. Your glycogen levels begin to drain and drop. When that drops, so goes your energy. It is my experienced opinion that you need to refuel BEFORE your glycogen levels drop.

My goal is to maintain my energy at a constant level. I don’t want to drop, refuel, drop again, refuel, and ride this energy roller coaster.

At my last race (which was my best time), I did my first GU gel at mile 3, then I did another at every odd mile (5, 7, 9). Then, at mile 11 I did 2 or 3 Clif Shot Blocks to take me the rest of the way.  This is what worked for ME… it may not be for everyone. I felt that my energy level was constant for the full 2 hours.

Find what works for you rather than just taking the advice out of some magazine.

Tip #7 – Enjoy the scenery and fans.

Finally, enjoy the run. Enjoy the fans along side the road yelling for everyone. There are always kids, cheerleaders, groups, and whoever willing to give you a high-five as you run by.  Do it!! Give someone a high-five now and then as you run by. I feel energized, almost like a transfer of energy. Read the posters and smile at them. These people don’t have to be out there yelling for strangers running by… enjoy them.

There will be people wearing different outfits or costumes. Elvis shows up for every race. Enjoy them. Enjoy the city that you’re running through, the neighborhoods.

Don’t run with your head down. It restricts oxygen flow, and you can’t enjoy the scenery when you’re only watching the road.

Bonus Tip – Reward yourself!

Give yourself an incentive or two to shoot for. To finish the race, I will reward myself with ______.  If I finish under this time, I’ll reward myself with ______.

I didn’t do this my first two races. It’s not a huge deal, but during my 3rd race, it was in my head around mile 8 or 9. I realized I was ahead of my pace and that I was going to get the bigger reward. I finished 90 seconds under my goal time, and later went out and rewarded myself with a brand new (first ever) pair of Oakley sunglasses.

There are few things that feel better than to stand with, congratulate, and enjoy the moment with others who have crossed the finish line with you, and getting that medal put around your neck.

Have a good race. Have fun.

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