RACE GUIDE: Race strategy

Mastering race strategy - A guide for marathon and half marathon runners

Welcome back, fellow runners! Today, we're delving into the nitty-gritty of race strategy, focusing specifically on marathons and half marathons. As a coach who's seen it all and an athlete who's tackled my fair share of long-distance races, I'm excited to share some tried-and-true tips to help you conquer your next big race. So, let's lace up our shoes and dive in.

Pacing strategy:

Ah, pacing—the holy grail of race strategy. Whether you're tackling a marathon or a half marathon, finding your rhythm and sticking to it is key. Start conservatively, resisting the urge to go out too fast in the early miles. Aim for a pace that feels sustainable, saving some energy for the latter stages of the race.

Breaking the race into manageable chunks can also help mentally. Focus on hitting your splits mile by mile or kilometre by kilometre, rather than getting overwhelmed by the distance ahead. And don't forget to listen to your body—if you're feeling good, you can always pick up the pace later in the race.

A top tip:

You are always best off starting outside of race pace than inside it, I am yet to have an athlete come to me and say “Coach, I didn’t run my goal in a half or marathon because I went through 5km too slow”. But I can tell you hundreds of athletes that have said “I went too fast through 5km but I felt great.” I’d be concerned if you didn’t feel great after the first 5km of a marathon!

Nutrition and Hydration:

Fuelling your body properly during a long-distance race is essential for maintaining energy levels and staving off fatigue. For marathons, aim to consume around 1x bodyweight grams of carbohydrates per hour of running (I.e, I weigh 74kg so I aim for 75-80g carbs per hour which is 2x Maurten 160 gels at 40g each), either through gels, sports drinks, or other easily digestible snacks.

Hydration is equally important, especially on hot race days. Aim to drink water or electrolyte drinks at regular intervals throughout the race, but be mindful not to overdo it—overhydration can be just as problematic as dehydration.

Electrolytes, Salts, and More:

As the miles start to add up, your body's electrolyte levels can become depleted, leading to cramping and fatigue. Incorporating electrolyte tablets or salt capsules into your race nutrition plan can help maintain electrolyte balance and keep you feeling strong.

Experiment with different products during your training runs to see what works best for you, and don't wait until race day to try something new. Stick with what you know works for your body to avoid any unwanted surprises on race day.

My Marathon and Half Marathon Race Strategy:

When it comes to race day, I like to approach it with a mix of excitement and focus. I start by visualising my race plan the days leading in, breaking it down into manageable segments and setting realistic goals for each mile. For the half marathon I split it into 2x10km then 2x5km within that. It’s a race of two halves - twice. I want to try and ensure my second 10k is faster than my first, if I do that, I’ve paced it well. For the marathon, I work on 4x10k and just focus on hitting my fuelling and hydration within that. I work on a basis of water every 15 minutes and a gel every 30 minutes within my pacing strategy. When I’m in the race, it can differ depending on how I’m feeling but I try to set myself up for success that way. Again, second half faster if I can, otherwise as even as possible!

During the race, I make sure to stay hydrated and fueled, taking in gels and fluids at regular intervals as per above. I also pay close attention to my pacing, making small adjustments as needed to stay on track.

And perhaps most importantly, I stay mentally engaged throughout the race, drawing inspiration from the crowds, fellow runners, and the sheer joy of being out on the course. Running a marathon or half marathon is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one, so staying positive and focused can make all the difference.

In conclusion, mastering race strategy is a combination of preparation, execution, and mental toughness. By pacing yourself wisely, fueling your body effectively, and staying mentally strong, you'll be well on your way to crossing that finish line with a smile on your face.

That wraps up our series on race preparation and strategy. I hope you've found these tips helpful as you continue on your running journey. Remember, every race is a chance to learn and grow, so embrace the challenge and enjoy the ride. Happy running!

- Coach Lloyd

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