How to Race A Half
by Jimmy Williams, PT, DPT
Alright, alright, alright… the big day is here. It’s half marathon race day. Hopefully you’ve done some training for this or else you might be in for a ride. The half marathon is one of my favorite distances to race. It hurts but you can at least walk a day or two later.
How to approach racing a half depends on your goals, how long you have been running for and what your training cycle has been like.
THE WARM UP
If it is your first half marathon, I recommend just walking to the start line and doing some dynamic stretches/drills prior to the race starting. If you have done multiple half marathons & had some high mileage leading up to this race, it may be a good idea to get a mile or two of easy running along with some strides (20 sec or 100m at 5k/10k pace) prior to the race. The difficult part of a warm-up comes when doing a large race where you must enter your corral up to 30 minutes before the race. You may still want to get a jog in but you HAVE to make sure to continue to move to stay warm & loose. Our dynamic lunge matrix is one of my favorite drills to do to stay loose before a race.
I like to approach a half in three separate parts: two 5 milers and a 5k.
THE FIRST 5 MILES
The first 5 miles should be gradually getting into the run. If you have a goal pace, now is the time to run that pace or slightly slower than that pace. If you go out too fast in the first 5 miles, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A BAD DAY. Conserve energy, let the crowds sort themselves out and don’t waste time by trying to run around people just to save you a few extra seconds.
THE SECOND 5 MILES
The second 5 miles is where you check in on yourself. You should either be having your first gel or already had your first gel by this point. If you kept your goal pace, this is when it should start to feel a little bit harder to hold but there is no cramping occurring and you shouldn’t be seeing stars… yet. Continue to hold that goal pace or even go a few seconds faster, especially if the first 5 miles were hilly and this 5 miles is more level ground.
THE NOT-SO-FUN 5K
The not-so-fun 5k is where the legs should start to hurt. You may want to take a second gel at the 10 mile mark, and a gel with caffeine may give you an extra edge in pushing through the pain. You might notice the legs feel very heavy or tight and that’s okay, completely normal at this part of the race. Remember, you’re not trying to go faster at this point, you’re just trying to not slow down. Hold the pace the best you can, dig into the crowd, throw your arms up and see if the cheers can help push you on to that Finish Line!