Saturday, May 19, 2012

Half Marathon Strategy

Hello Runners!
Well, tomorrow is the big day.  It's the Green Bay Half Marathon, and it's going to be HOT.  Starting temperatures are forecasted around 70 degrees.  The chances of running a PR (personal record) in this kind of heat are slim.  Of course, I wasn't planning on going for my PR tomorrow, I just want to run well.  The whole point of running this half marathon was to kick my butt into shape in March and April.  Coming into the race my initial goal was to run sub 1:28 (around 6:45 pace).  Even with the predicted heat tomorrow, I'm not changing my goal, but I will definitely re-evaluate my situation mid-race.  I'm not going to break myself at mile 9 or 10 trying to hold 6:45's.  So, the question is, how do you pace a half marathon?

Personally, I think I run the half with pretty good tactics.  Tomorrow will be my 15th half, so I consider myself to be pretty experienced in this distance.  Here are my 3 keys to running a successful (and fast) half marathon.
  • Start off SLOW and EASE into race pace
  • Hold STEADY, REAL'em In 
  • Give'r HELL
START OFF SLOW: It's very easy in the half marathon to start WAY too fast.  The gun goes off and people fly off the start line.  Excitement and adrenaline make the start quick and nearly effortless.  DON'T get caught up in this.  Run easy and even hold back your pace.  I can't tell you how many times I've thought I started the race slow and when I get to the first mile I'm 15-20, even 30sec under goal pace.  YIKES!  This sort of start is sure to come back and bite you in the last 5k.  Many runners may pass you early on.  It may be tempting to run with them, but don't worry about other runners.  Concentrate on YOUR race.  Let them start off fast, you'll catch them later when their legs are dead... suckers!  Thankfully, with the advent of GPS watches, it's much easier to monitor your pace the first mile.  If you have a GPS watch, I recommend looking at it somewhat frequently the first mile.  If you don't have a GPS watch, look around.  Someone near you probably does.  Feel free to ask them what the pace is.  Most runners are friendly and they'd be happy to let you know the pace.  REMEMBER, you want to be running SLOWER than race pace, not faster.  For instance, tomorrow I want to average 6:45's for the total race.  This means I want my first mile to be somewhere between 6:50-7:00.  EASE into race pace.  I like to ease into race pace over the first 5k.  Try to run your first mile 10-15sec slower than race pace, mile 2 at 5-10sec slower, and mile 3 at 0-5sec slower.  By the time you start mile 4, you should be running right at goal pace.  If you're doing math in your head, you've probably realized that you're 20-30sec behind your goal pace after the first 3 miles.  That's ok.  You'll make up that time throughout the rest of the race.  

HOLD STEADY: By mile 4, I recommend running at goal pace.  As a matter of fact, I try to run 0-5sec faster than goal pace per mile (it gives little bit of cushion in case you are in a world a pain later on).  So, taking my example again (6:45 goal pace) I will want to run between 6:40-6:45's.  Hold this pace for the next 7-8 miles.  REAL'em In.  At some point in the half marathon, you'll notice that people are no longer passing you and that YOU are passing people!  I'm guessing this will generally happen between miles 6-9 (Remember all those people who started the race so fast??).  The quick starters will feel the pain as the race progresses and their pace will begin to drop off.  Just slowly pick them off.  One by one.  No hurry.  Just focus on the person in front of you and slowly catch them.  Once you catch them, focus on the next person.  
This does a few things: 
1. It helps you to keep a consistent and strong pace.  
2. It gives you confidence that you're running well and passing people.  
3. Passing people and focusing on catching them distracts you from the pain and fatigue of the race.  

GIVE'R HELL:  After the 10 mile mark I like to assess my pace and go for it.  By starting out slow in the first 5k, holding a steady pace over the next 7 miles I generally have some left in the tank to pick up my pace a bit.  If I'm I'm not feeling great, I'll wait until the mile 11 marker.  Either way, you have to go for it at some point.  I try to pick up the pace, quicken the turnover, and run my 3 fastest miles in the final 5k.  Remember those 30 sec you lost in the first 5k?  Well, over the course of the middle 7-8 miles you probably will bring back around 30sec.  Perfect!  With 3 miles to go you're right at your goal pace, possibly a bit quicker.  Now, it's time to run faster than goal pace.  In my case (6:45 pace) I will try to run my final 3 miles around 6:30-6:40.  I will generally try to run each mile a little faster than the previous.  For example, Mile 11 (6:40), Mile 12 (6:35), Mile 13 (6:30).  If I'm able to do this, I'll have no problem finishing the race UNDER my goal time.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  For instance, tomorrow is going to be hot.  By mile 10 I may be dead tired and just try to hold my pace the last 5k.  You never know.  Therefore, it's absolutely necessary to evaluate your pace, how you're feeling, and whether you can maintain pace throughout the race.  If it's too much effort, slow down!  It's better to run a slightly slower pace than to completely bonk and come limping into the finish.  Just my opinion. 

Let's recap:  I like to break the half marathon into 3 parts: 
  • The first 5k 
  • The middle 7 miles 
  • The final 5k  
By EASING into goal pace I'm able to conserve energy needed for later in the race.  During the middle 7 miles I try to run a consistent pace, focusing on catching and passing runners who started off too quick.  With 5k to go I pick up my pace and give everything I've got left.  There it is, a successful and smart half marathon.

Of course, every person is different.  This formula has worked well for me in races, but it may not work for everyone.  You have to run your own race, experiment a bit, and figure out what formula works for you.  But I'm willing to be that if you follow my formula, you'll run a good time.

Other pre-race tips (in no particular order).  
  • Hydrate before the race - not just water.  Gatorade or juice is good too (gotta keep those electrolytes).  I also like to drink a beer the night before a race.  It helps me sleep - plus I like beer :)
  • Eat normal: Don't go crazy and change your diet or try something new for dinner the night before the race.  Eat what your body is accustomed to eat.  Tonight, I ate some grilled chicken, a sweet potato, and broccoli.  The whole "pasta for dinner" is way over rated.  You should be focused on eating some carbs in the 2-3 days leading up to the race, not just the 1 meal before.  That being said, I ate pasta last night.
  • Eat a light breakfast:  DON'T skip breakfast the day of the race.  About 2 hours before, eat a breakfast.  I like to eat a banana, some toast with honey, and a little bit of yogurt with granola.  This generally sits fine in my stomach and I usually don't have any issues/cramps before a race. 
  • Prep your gear the night before:  You don't want to scramble the morning of.  No need for added stress.  Get all you gear together the night before.
  • Warm-up:  Even though my race strategy "ease's" into the race, it's a good idea to do at least 5-7 minutes of warm-up before the race just to loosen up the legs and get the heart-rate up a bit.  
  • Get a good night's sleep... 2 nights before the race.  That's right, TWO nights BEFORE.  If your race is Sunday, get a good night's sleep on Friday night.  Sure you want to get a good night's sleep the night before, but sometimes you're nervous and anxious. The race runs through your head and you have problems sleeping.  Getting good sleep 2 nights before helps in case you get restless sleep the night before.
If you have any other pre-race tips you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them.  

Anyway people, I have a race to run in less than 9 hours (gulp) so it's time to drink my beer, pack my gear, and get some sleep.  Good night, and good luck... running that is!

No comments:

Post a Comment