Half Marathon strategy – 10 points…well almost!

Deutsch: Start des Bodensee-Marathons

It is common knowledge that for any long distance race you should have a strategy and stick to it. The question is, what should that strategy be? This is a more difficult question and the answer will probably vary significantly from person to person.

In this post, after seven half marathons in the past 12 months, I am going to write about what works best for me. I am going to focus on the race and not the pre race training, although I should bring references to training in.

  1. Know your goal. This should be specific. For example you may be aiming for sub 1:45 and then grab what you can if it is going well. In other words if you are on target you might push for a 1:44… I have a goal of sub 1:40, but the half marathons in my region are very hilly and I have to be realistic. So this brings me to my second point.
  2. Be realistic.I know that, having done 1:41, I will eventually go sub 1:40 but I have to take into account the elevation of my local races and therefore I do the best I can for the course. Furthermore, if it is hotter than usual or wetter or windier, then take this into account too.
  3. Be specific.If you have set a goal then you should know your mins per mile pace. For example, I know that I have to do 7:56 per mile at least to beat 1hr 45mins. Now this is an average, so don’t get caught up on checking every mile. This could result in you forcing it too much at a stage in the race when it is too hilly or you don’t feel ready. It is only a measurement or barometer of what you have to do over 13.1miles. This takes me to the next point…
  4. Run on feel. Experienced runners get to know exactly what 7:30 per mile or 7 minute miles feel like without consulting a watch. At points in a half marathon I may feel good and run at close to 7mins per mile, but I know that this is my 10k pace so I don’t do it for too long. I also know that during some tough climbs I may drop momentarily to 8:30 or even 9min pace. I run on feel. I try to keep an even effort throughout the race as opposed to an even pace. Now this is where many runners differ. Some go for even splits. The point is that this is why you train – to work out what is best for you. I treat different races differently. For example, in both a 10k or a marathon I go for even pace. For some reason, I think because my local half marathons are quite hilly, the even pace strategy does not work for me. This takes me to…
  5. Know your effort to distance ratio. On one race this year, despite having done four half marathons and six full marathons at this stage, I ignored everything I learned and went bust for a sub 1:40. It was my favourite course and the least hilly. I set off aiming to do 7:25 per mile for as long as possible and then try to hang in for a terrific PB. The fact is that it was very hot. All my training had been winter training and that Spring race day the glorious sunshine came out. My body was not prepared. I knew that I was expending to much effort & too much sweat, to maintain that pace, but I ignored my body and ignored the fact that I could not have kept that effort going for 13.1miles. As a result, after the only big hill on the course and as I came on to the home straight, I blew up at mile 8. It was a disaster. I finished – but it ended 8 mins off my target! So, similar to ‘run on feel’ – know how much effort you can maintain for 13.1miles.
  6. Break the race into segments. Sometimes a race effort strategy is naturally divided for you by hills etc, but all things being equal I try to divide it into three. In the first segment (1-4 miles) I try to gauge how I feel and put a little time in the bank (hills/conditions permitting) – nothing too extreme, but say 7:45 per mile average. In the middle section (5-8) I try to run at an even effort, knowing that I need enough energy to finish, but I don’t want to drop below my target time either – usually around 7.55-8mins per mile. In the final push from about mile 9 I try to lift it if possible and take the race to a strong conclusion. I have, in the past saved my best mile efforts for the last four. Of course, this all depends on natural hills etc so it is not an exact science and it will vary from course to course…
  7. Hydrate properly – on proper fluids. You will read on every runners guide about the importance of hydration, but what does this really mean? After training for a running lots of different races I have learned that my body needs 500ml of a sport isotonic drink every hour during a race. It could be double this if it is hot or humid, or slightly less if it is cool and I am not sweating the same. Water alone is no good, as we sweat out things like sodium as well. The isotonic drinks replace other lost minerals, but water simply dilutes the ratio of these minerals in our body further and may cause an electrolyte imbalance (although water is definitely better than nothing!!). I gauge my hydration level prior to a race by the colour of my urine. If it is pale then I am adequately hydrated. If I take too much more fluid on then I may need to stop during the race for a 2 minute pee! Bang goes the PB!
  8. Be prepared to work. If you want to feel real achievement at the end of the half marathon you need to work. By mile eight to nine I usually begin to feel fatigue – any earlier than this then I know I am going too quickly for the conditions/how my body feels etc. If I reach this stage and feel fresh then I need to lift it (hills/conditions permitting). It should get harder naturally from mile ten and at this point you may feel that you are putting a bit extra effort in. That’s ok. Just don’t push it so hard that you blow up at mile 12! When I finish a half marathon, marathon or a 10k race I can’t sprint finish. In other words I have given my all over the distance and I know I have worked hard. Even if the time is disappointing I know that it was simply an off day (and I have had plenty!) but I know that on that day I could not have given more. I look at people sprint finishing and I think to myself, ‘what on earth where you doing for the past x amount of miles!!’. Be prepared to work and you will be pleased once you cross the finish line!
    National Marathon Washington DC
  9. Enjoy it. It is a lifestyle and you are only competing with yourself!
  10. I don’t have a tenth point but it seems a better number to finish on 🙂
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3 Responses to Half Marathon strategy – 10 points…well almost!

  1. Pingback: Pre-race: Rest or Run?? | RunJunky

  2. Pingback: Portaferry 10 mile: What did I say about race strategy? | RunJunky

  3. Pingback: Make. A. Difference. « Chasing The Next Mile Marker

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