How to Race a Half Marathon

Age Is No Barrier

The Half Marathon is one of the most interesting race distances in the world of running. It is a true all-rounder which includes a taste of everything that running can provide as a sport. The half-marathon brings a spectacular challenge of the mind and the body. It consists of 21.1 kilometres (or 13.1 miles) of strategy, endurance and a self-reflection of your own capabilities and skills. This is where the physical fitness meets emotional endurance. Just being fit won’t be enough to get you through this distance. The Half Marathon race distance also requires the highest level of mental and emotional strength to race the distance in your best time. This distance requires you to understand the course specifics and conditions and it will take you to the finish line with everything you have left out on course.

Preparing for a Half Marathon requires a consistent approach to training. The length of time required to prepare for this event varies considerably depending on what your current level of overall fitness is, and what your wish to achieve from the race. If you have a race or goal in mind, you can always drop our running and triathlon club Melbourne coaches a message and have a free meet up to discuss your options.

The strategy for a Half Marathon can vary depending on your calculated finish time. More experienced athletes need to consider pacing and positioning, while newer athletes to the distance need to focus more on their nutrition and perceived effort. The half marathon requires you to know and understand your capabilities. Following on from the 5km and 10km race strategy blogs in previous weeks, strategy blogs, we will again divide this race into 6 steps. Each step is just as important as the next, and as always, the objective will always be to obtain a negative split in pace.

Step 1 – Warm Up

This is where you activate your body, be sure to move your legs and do some dynamic stretching. At this stage the race anxiety will start to build up, so the best advice is not to let it control you. Your body needs all the available energy to race so using it up being nervous before the event begins won’t help you stay on top of your game.

Step 2 – 1st to 4th Kilometre

Ideally you want to go slightly slower than your goal pace for the first 3 kilometres. Find your rhythm control your breathing and stay relaxed in the crowded start line rush. Your main objective for this step is to conserve energy and allow your body to adjust into the correct zone and focus your mind on the race ahead.

Step 3 – 4th to 10th Kilometre

For the next 6 kilometres you want to aim to hold just slightly under your goal pace. You should be feeling the effort but able hold the pace for an extended period. Your body by now is acclimatising to meeting your expectations and your breathing, heart rate and body mechanics should by now feel comfortable and automatic. It is through this step that you will settle in and find runners that you will be battling it out with for the remainder of the race. It is also where you will start to pass those athletes who went out too hard in the first 3 kilometres and have now blown up their legs.

Step 4 – 10th to 15th kilometre

If you have trained your mind along with your physical preparation, then this step is where that training will come to fruition. Generally, these are very lonely kilometres. In a lot of cases, this is where the course takes you the furthest distance away from the finish line. You will begin to feel fatigue setting in, but the end of the race feels seems a long way off. It is in these moments that you must focus on keeping your mind exactly in the kilometre you are. You need to spend some mental energy here concentrating  on your pace and your form. It is also the step that requires all of your  self-motivation to help you stay at your target pace.

It is important at this step to also make a decision about your pace. Not all events are created equal, and not all preparations are perfect. You need to weigh up the course profile, the heat, cold, humidity, wind, and all the other external factors  in front of you. If you feel that you need to slow down slightly to finish the race in good shape, then this is the time to do it. At this step your body has gone a great length, but there is still a long way to go. Understanding your limits and abilities are the key here and sometimes slowing down might end up being more beneficial than pushing a faster pace.

Step 5 – 15th to 20th kilometres

If the race has gone according to your set plan, then you should be able to start pushing more and more from here. These 5 kilometres can be run as a progressive build in pace at each kilometre. It is important to remember, however, that you are still carrying fatigue, so don’t attempt a sprint finish from here. Always keep in mind that you still need to finish this race.

Step 6 – The Final Push

From this point onwards, you should have enough energy in reserve to give a last push to the finish line. When entering this step, try to accelerate little by little, and check in with how your body responds. The objective is to bring the speed up more and more to the point that you will be able to throw all in at the very end.

There are some common mistakes you should avoid for a Half Marathon. Some of these are very similar to the 5km and 10km race days, which you can click through to read.

  • Avoid anything new on race day.
  • It is very unlikely that any athlete will be able to finish a half marathon safely without the correct training leading up to the race. A lacklustre preparation will result in sub optimal performance and may lead to the risk of injury.
  • The longer you are out on course, the harder it will be for your body to cope with maintaining pace if you do not fuel correctly. Make sure that you plan and know where the aid stations are and know what kind of food and drink will be on offer at each station. Also be sure that you have a race day nutrition plan mapped out so that you know what to eat and drink and when to do so. This is where a coach can be very useful in helping you plan your race.
  • The course profile plays a huge part in racing a half-marathon. With this distance, just having a slightly warmer day or the wind blowing in a specific direction can make a big difference in your racing plan.

The Half Marathon is the third distance on your way to the mythical Marathon distance. This half distance is the perfect challenge for the mind and the body. If you have progressed to this distance, it means that you enjoy running a lot, but it also means that you need to become very conscious of your body’s limitations and abilities. Finishing this challenge will make you conscious of your own self and others around you. A challenge that every runner should do at least once in their lifetime.

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