I’ve coached many runners to reach new personal records in half marathons. Some were hoping to break 2 hours, some just wanted to make it across the finish line, and one even set a new state record as an 11-year-old! Each trainee ran their best race by following a specific race plan that included these 5 simple race strategies:
1. Negative Splits
A perfect negative split describes a race in which every mile is ran faster than the one previous to it, but most runners refer to the term as a race where the second half was ran faster than the first half. To run a negative split, you’ll first want to work out your overall pace target. For example, to run under two hours in the half marathon, each mile must be run in 9 minutes and 10 seconds. A runner needs to have the self-discipline to stay, at most, at a 9:10/mile pace for the first half of the race. Once they cross the 10-mile mark, they can let the dogs out and crush their goal.
2. Hydrate Early and Often
I always tell my runners to grab water at every station. If you wait until you’re thirsty, it’s already too late. The same goes for energy gels and chews. You want to eat them before your body tells you that you’re running low on fuel. Each runner is different, but most coaches agree that runners require some type of fuel or sports drink within the first 60 minutes of a half marathon race.
Fueling on the run takes practice. During your long training runs, take along some water bottles or place them along your route so that you can practice drinking and eating on the move. If you’re using paper cups on race day, try pinching the top of the cup and funneling the liquid into your mouth to reduce spillage.
3. Run 10 Miles or More During Training
The only way to build up your running endurance is to incrementally run for longer periods of time. The progression should be steady and planned in such a way that your body can adapt to greater distances throughout the training cycle. Gradually increase your longest training runs until you can comfortably handle 10 miles at a time.
Most runners can finish a half marathon if they can finish a ten-mile training run. However, if runners have specific time targets, longer runs are required. One of my favorite running workouts is what I call the 14-mile fast finish. This workout consists of 7 easy miles followed by 7 miles at goal race pace.
4. Research the Race Course
Every race course is different. The Pikes Peak Marathon is a completely different animal than the Cape Cod Marathon. The former runs up and down one of America’s tallest mountains, while the latter is as flat as a pancake. Knowing the race course will provide you with lots of strategic information.
Research race times, check out the course maps and elevation guides, and try to drive over the course prior to racing it. If you can ride a bike or do a training run on the racecourse, you definitely should. By researching the course, you’ll be ready for the hills, know where to run the tangents, and feel more confident on race day.
5. Eat, Sleep and Dream
In the days leading up to the race, be sure to eat plenty of healthy meals and get at least 8 hours of sleep. Make time to visualize a successful race performance and think through each mile of the race. If you train your mind to race, your body will follow.
Jason is a competitive marathon runner and RRCA distance running coach. He's the senior editor at SaltmarshRunning.com, and writes for several online health and fitness publications. When he's not running on the roads and trails, Jason can be found enjoying life with his family and friends on the New Hampshire seacoast.
Main Photo Credit: Mikael Damkier/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Kamil Macniak/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: deathtothestockphotos.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Daxiao Productions/shutterstock.com