Have you ever endured that moment in a race where suddenly your legs cannot run any faster? The sensation of defeat overwhelms you, as your pace slows down and the finish line is still miles away.
I was hungry for a sizeable PR in my second half marathon, and so I committed the mistake that so many runners make in the half marathon: I started out at too fast of a pace. I crashed and burned. I may have still finished with a decent PR, but I had a miserable second half of the race. I didn’t want to repeat that experience again, especially if I could control it.
So I did what I naturally do: I read everything I could to find a practical solution to avoid struggling over the second half of the half marathon. Out of everything I read, Sarah’s post on How to Pace Your Next Marathon or Half Marathon helped me the most (and I’m hoping her advice will help me at CIM!).
Last week I wrote about how setting a goal of following a smart pacing strategy can help you shift from focus from finish times and run a breakthrough race. So today I want to share an example of what this type of quantitative goal setting looks like in the half marathon and how to pace your fastest half marathon and enjoy a breakthrough race.
Why does pacing matter for the half marathon? Your half marathon pace is not much slower than your lactate (anaerobic) threshold. When you run faster than your lactate threshold, you accumulate fatigue at a much quicker rate than when you run below your lactate threshold. So when you start out a half marathon too fast – faster than goal pace – you fatigue more rapidly than you would at goal pace or slightly slower. That’s why the last 3-5 miles of a half marathon feels so difficult when you do not pace appropriately – you sabotaged your race by starting out too fast.
These tips are what I have found that worked for me in running my half marathons – both my PR race at the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon and at the Leaf Peeper Half, where I ran a negative split on a challenging course. Of course, every runner is different, but these guidelines can help you pace your fastest half marathon.
How to Pace Your Fastest Half Marathon
Before the Race:
Warm up with 5-10 minutes of very easy running, some strides at race pace, and dynamic stretches.
Take these miles easy. Even if you warmed up before the race, most of us still take a while to settle into goal pace. Aim for 10-15 seconds slower than your goal pace, and do not weave around other runners. The lateral movements will fatigue muscles you don’t normally use in running and weaving will add extra distance to your run. Let people pass you.
Settle into a steady pace. You should have practiced your half marathon pace enough in training where you know how this pace will feel on race day. The pace should feel comfortable and sustainable. Don’t obsess over your watch; check in at your pace but trust yourself and trust your training.
If you feel tempted to slow down or speed up too much at any point, focus on a few runners around you who are running your speed and pace with them. In How Bad Do You Want It?, Matt Fitzgerald describes the group effect as being how running with others reduces your perceived effort – thus making it easier to run faster than you would on your own. Take advantage of this effect if you find others running your goal pace.
A half marathon will get hard at this point, but if you started out conservatively, you should still have fuel in your tank. Maintain your goal pace as best as you can or increase it by 5-10 seconds per mile if possible.This is when the race becomes a mental game: you will feel comfortable, but with the proper coping strategies you can run at this effort. This segment of the race is when you should try to pass other runners: focus on one runner, work towards passing them, and then repeat.
Push your pace more and more – you are almost done and you are not about to crash and burn at this point (unless it is psychological). I like to count down by tenths of a mile from 12.1 and tell myself to push just a bit harder with each tenth that passes. Give your hardest effort over the final tenth.
Final Notes on Pacing:
- Focus on the mile you are in. Don’t worry about how you will feel in the next mile or at the end of the race.
- Don’t stare at your GPS instant pace (trees and skyscrapers can throw it off), but check in on your mile laps to determine if you are running on pace.
- Bad miles and good miles alike occur in a race. Don’t stress over a mile split that is too fast or too slow – simply correct course and focus on the next mile.
Linking up with Coaches’ Corner!
Have you ever crashed and burned in a race?
What tips do you have for half marathon pacing?