Michael’s Message – How To Race A Half Marathon
Many athletes will be racing the Shamrock or Wrightsville Beach Half Marathons this weekend. For those racing, you should read our course previews after reading this article: Shamrock / Wrightsville. In the spirit of this weekend, I wanted to provide a few tips on racing the half marathon distance.
I believe the half marathon distance is one of the greatest races out there. Long enough to really stretch you while short enough to feel like you are racing. Not as glorious as the marathon? I think not. Racing a half marathon requires keen pacing and guts to get the finish line at your potential.
Be Strong – The Half Marathon distance, if run correctly, always demands 3 miles of really tough racing at the end. After running 10 miles close to threshold pace, your body should want to slow down those last 3. The key is knowing this is coming, welcoming the pain by saying I have been waiting for you, and pushing through it. The pain is a sign that you have run this race perfectly if you are able to maintain pace for those last 3 miles. Doing so requires a commitment to your goal. Finish strong!
Warm Up – Those who are comfortable with the distance should do a light 5-10 minute warm up plus strides. For those who are not, you can get by with some easy dynamic exercises (which those doing a run warm up should do as well). There are a lot of great exercises out there. For our athletes, we recommend you do the exercises and drills we do before our Thursday runs. For others, refer to the following link to get you started:
Race Pace – Physiologically you can hold zone 4 for 1 hour and zone 3 for 2-3 hours, so half marathon pace is somewhere in between the two depending on how long your race should take. For instance, if you plan to finish in 1:20, then you can run about 5-10 seconds off zone 4 pace. If running 1:40, you will be about 15-20 seconds off threshold pace. If 2 hours, 25-30 seconds off threshold pace. These are generalities – your individual coach can individualize for you.
Race pace should stretch you – I hope you look at your goal pace and think “wow, that is faster than I thought, but I think there is a chance I can do it.” If you are saying that, the pace is perfect. To achieve that pace, you are going to have to commit mentally and physically, but I am confident all of you can do it. I like to think of running races as racing using your mind for the first 2/3 of the race and your heart for the last 1/3. Do not go out too fast – trust that the pace is right for you and be smart. If you feel great with 1/3 of the race left, you can start taking some risks and racing with your heart.
Nutrition – Nutrition begins days before the race! Through the race, get in plenty of fluids and sodium (salt your food more). Look for a little more carbohydrates than normal and taper off the fiber. Eat your last big meal Friday night and small meals throughout the day on Saturday largely of carbohydrates. Wake up as early as possible Sunday and eat a good breakfast of carbohydrates and begin drinking water. Last 60 minutes sip a bottle of sports drink finishing up 15 minutes from start. I suggest a gel 15 minutes before the start as well. Use the bathroom one last time. If you want, this is a good time to take a gel with some water as well. On the course, you will need to consume fluids, gels, and possibly sodium to keep glycogen stores well maintained and not bonk. Plan to sip SPORTS DRINK at most of the aid stations and consume 1 gel (or equivalent) every 30-45 minutes. Be aware of sloshing in your stomach…if you feel it, back off the nutrition slightly and let it digest. If you cramp at any time during the race, look for sodium.
These are the elements that make up a great half marathon. I hope they are helpful to those racing this weekend as well as anyone racing a half marathon in the future. Best of luck!