In a nutshell, you just put one foot in front of the other and go a bit quick for 13.1 miles. Half marathon done.
Of course not! Never wing a half marathon, give the distance the respect it deserves and train for it. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve trained for and completed three of these puppies, so I thought I’d give you my breakdown for how I handle the miles on race day.
This isn’t a mile for speed. You’re setting out your stall, so to speak – there’ll likely be a bottleneck of people and so your main aim is to start strong and find your rhythm. Use this mile to convert your pre-race adrenaline into a pragmatic approach. Choose your start position sensibly – a good tactic is to hunt out the pacers at the start line and bob about near your target one. Don’t try to get too far ahead of the pack, but equally don’t drop back either – the runners will thin out after a few hundred metres you’ll have your space.
Settle and bed in to the race, you’re going to be here a while. By now your mind will be veering between feeling like you’ve totally got this, countered by a sense of being overwhelmed. It’s ok – in cardiovascular terms, your body has just experienced a huge surge in activity. You know how you often get crazy breathless at the start of your workout, then your breathing adjusts and you smash out the reps? This is the running equivalent to that.
Try, and I know this is so hard, but TRY not to look at your watch until this point. If you’ve followed an effective training plan, you’ll know roughly if you’re at your target pace for the first leg. The beauty with long distance running is that you still have plenty of miles to make adjustments to your speed. I find that once I start to check my watch, I’m a bit obsessive with looking at it every couple of minutes thereafter. Then I start to mentally work out how long I have left to run, whether I’m on course for a PB, how mile 5 compared to mile 3 and so on. It’s pressure that you don’t need, frankly, so fight the urge for as long as you can.
Ok, do look at your watch now, because you’re at the 10km mark. Some races will record your chip time here too, to give you your 10km split at the end of the race.
For me, it’s The Wall. You’re over halfway – yay! But wait, there’s still another good few miles left. It’s easy at this point to get a bit bored, although I hate to say it. The initial buzz has worn off, your legs start to feel heavy, and you’re probably very sweaty. This is my most uncomfortable and challenging portion for sure. It’s doubly uncomfortable because you can’t get complacent here, if you’re chasing a time. You need to simultaneously hang on in there, but maintain focus and prepare to slightly increase your speed in the next few miles.
This is my favourite bit. From mile 9, it all starts to go quite quickly, and you’ve got maybe 45 mins left of running, tops? Now, this a section of the race that requires discipline, it’s still too early to be all out gunning it but you can’t afford to lose tempo here either. Steady steady, not supercharged or sloppy.
You’ve got way less than 5km left now, that’s not even a full Parkrun. You’ve done the bulk of the work and now you need to square everything off and mentally revisit your goal time. It’s here that you want to increase your pace, if you’re slower than you need to be. If you’ve got it in you, push on…but again, you’re not quite at the home leg yet. You see how much discipline and self-conditioning is involved?
You’re almost at the end now, and as you approach the finish line your route will hopefully be lined with masses of supporters. The full course won’t have spectators right the way through, so you’ll really notice the upsurge in noise here. It can feel like sensory overload and it’s very emosh – especially when people shout out your name if it’s shown on your bib or running vest. Soak it all in but don’t get distracted… you’re SO CLOSE but you’ve still got the final sprint to push through.
You go and get it. It’s yours.
I really hope that’s a useful summary, if you’re training for a half marathon at the moment. Ok, I’ve never gone higher than that, but it’s my favourite distance to race and I would choose it over a 10km any day!
If you’re not ready to tackle a half, or if you’re injured, then I’d absolutely encourage you to volunteer as a race marshal. Like I said, parts of the route can feel quite sparse and monotonous, and marshals offer a much needed boost. Also in terms of race safety, they’re crucial for pointing out hazards (cars are basically dicks, even if the road is closed). Or, if you’re not able to formally marshal, just stand along the route with some jelly babies and cheer your lungs hoarse.
Oh, and lastly? Running does kind of gross things to your body. Would you prefer a black toenail, or no toenail? Either is highly likely. Ditto grizzly legs – you’ll want to get clued up on varicose vein treatment for sure.
-SJW October 2017