It’s time for this month’s addition of Run It! Five other running bloggers and I team up each month to bring you tips and tricks to maximize your running. This month, we are sharing our best racing advice (and the worst we’ve heard!).
I am most familiar with racing marathons and half marathons, and most of the athletes I coach race those distances as well, so my best racing advice pertains primarily to those distances. All my advice comes from things I learned the hard way – poor pacing, poor hydration, and not fueling enough. However, the same principles can be applied to shorter or longer distances as well.
Best Racing Advice
With the adrenaline and nerves of race day pumping, many runners will burst through the start line at way too fast of a pace. Even if you have completed a warm-up before the race, your body needs time to settle into goal pace – and you certainly do not want to start out faster than goal pace. Banking time never works, but running the first mile or two of a race at a conservative effort can help you stay on pace later in the race and finish fast.
This doesn’t mean that you should start at your easy run pace, but the pace at which you start should feel relatively easy. Depending on the distance of the race, this means starting anywhere from at race pace (5K), just a few seconds slower per mile (10K), 10 seconds per mile slower than goal pace (10 miler/half marathon), or 15-30 seconds per mile slower (marathon). Then settle into goal pace and focus on finishing fast and strong.
Follow your pacing strategy on race day – don’t get distracted by other runners or change your strategy based on the pacers – and not only will you run a strong race, but also an enjoyable race.
Have a Fueling and Hydration Plan
I ran two rough races in 2015 – and in part, it was due to a rather cavalier hydration plan. I figured that I would drink at every other aid station or as needed. I am a heavy, salty sweater, so needless to say, that didn’t work to my benefit. I need to drink at every aid station and alternate between water and Nuun or Enduropacks during a race.
Having a fueling and hydration plan – and sticking to it – helped me BQ and run my half marathon PR. I need to drink at every aid station and alternate between water and Nuun or Enduropacks during a race – so I make sure to drink at each aid station (sometimes with the exception of that very last one with a mile to go), even if it’s just a sip.
Use your long runs to practice your fueling and hydration plan, so that it is second nature on race day. Follow this plan as closely as possible on race day – don’t change it based on nerves or what others are doing. Set an alert on your Garmin or phone if needed to remind you to eat your fuel.
Race High (on Carbs)
As part of your fueling plan for a marathon or half marathon, you may want to consider taking in more carbs during the race than you would during a normal long run. You are running faster than you would during a normal long run and you want to take every legal ergogenic aid that you can to achieve your best performance on race day.
Even if you don’t need gels or chews to run 13 miles at an easy pace, you will only improve your performance on race day by taking fuel. There is no extra prize at the finish line for running a marathon or half marathon without fuel, but you will receive a very effective legal performance boost by racing high on carbohydrates.
You don’t even need to stuff yourself; 30-40 grams of carbohydrates per hour is enough to help you hold onto race pace when the race gets hard.
Of course, you want to practice this a couple times in training so that your stomach is trained to digest fuel. A recent study indicates that you can train your gut to better handle carbohydrates (either in the form of sports nutrition product or whole food) during a run, and the same study also indicates leads to better running performance than running without any carbohydrates
Ideally, you want to practice fueling during harder long runs, so you train your gut how to handle the fuel near or at race pace. Fuel doesn’t have to be limited to sports nutrition products – pretzels, fruit puree, banana chips, and boiled potatoes are natural alternatives for easily digestible carbs during a race.
Now for the worst racing advice – do not follow these pieces of advice, even if they are offered to you by a friend who just ran a PR:
- Bank time during the first half of the marathon. NO. Just don’t do it. Aim for even splits or negative splits. Don’t plan on running positive splits, unless your race is completely downhill in the first half and completely uphill in the last half – in which case, aim to conserve effort in the first half.
- Run your last long run before the race as hard as you can. NO! I have actually heard this one and it baffled me. A taper means both mileage and intensity – save it for race day. Some runners may do a peak hard long run 2 weeks before a half or 3 weeks before a marathon, but the goal of this run is never to run it as hard as you can.
- Wear brand new shoes and clothes on race day. No – not unless you want chafing and blisters. Have a tried and true race outfit and at least 50 miles on your shoes (but not so many miles that they are worn down.
The best part of the Run It Series is that you get the advice from five other runners. These ladies have a wealth of racing experience – from triathlons to snowshoe races – so here’s what they have to share as their best racing advice or the worst advice they’ve ever received!
What’s the best racing advice you’ve ever received? The worst?