Whether it’s your first half marathon, or your first attempt at The Royal Parks Half Marathon this weekend, getting the pacing right is key. You’ve probably logged months of training runs, but keeping to race pace on the day is key to getting you across the line in the time you’re hoping for.
We spoke to running coach Tom Craggs to get his top race-day pacing tips for runners ahead of Sunday’s race:
1. Stay positive as you walk to the start line
As with any race, it can be difficult not to get carried away by the crowds and the nerves on the start line. Remind yourself of the training you’ve put in and what you’ve achieved so far.
“Stay positive as you walk to the start line. You’ll hear lots of negative voices, but you are going to put a bubble around yourself and remind yourself of those five or ten key positives from your training” says Craggs.
2. When the start pistol goes, calm down
It’s advice you’ll probably have heard before, but starting too fast is one of the biggest mistakes runners can make on race day. “Keep to your planned race pace for the first 10K of the half marathon” says Craggs, and if that feels good, you can pick up in the second half of the race and push on for a faster finish from the 15K point.
Even if you’ve not planned, or trained to run negative splits, often the best runners in the world, including Eliud Kipchoge at his recent world record for the marathon in Berlin, holds back in that first half. Watch and learn from the elites, and when that start pistol goes, calm down, take a step back and don’t get swept up in the runners racing past you. If you’re used to training with a running watch, keep an eye on your average pace for those first few miles and make sure you’re not going too quick.
3. Look out for the pacers
If you’re worried about getting swept up in the excitement of the day, or you’ve not trained with a running watch and want to make sure you’re running at the right pace, a race pacer can help.
They’ll normally be pretty noticeable and will be in the relevant start pens. At the Royal Parks Half Marathon, there are pacers at the following times: 1h30, 1h40, 1h45, 1h50, 1h55, 2h00, 2h05, 2h10, 2h15, 2h20, 2h30.
4. Remember your fuelling, form and technique
It’s also important to remember that it’s not all about the pace, but getting your body round. Stick on your race day fuelling strategy, no matter how easy that race-pace might feel, “don’t worry that the guy next door to you has downed five gels by 10K into the race, stick on your fuelling strategy, whether that’s gels or jelly babies, stick on plan” says Craggs.
Don’t forget about form and technique on race day warns Craggs; “Do what we call centring, think about your posture, think about your breathing, are you still running up and right or are you starting to crouch forward like a caveman?” Check in to how your body is feeling on the way round, if you’re in pain or your legs are feeling tired, let your body stay at a pace that feels more comfortable and push for a faster finish towards the end of the race.
5. Look at the route beforehand
The Royal Parks half marathon is pretty flat, but it’s always a good idea to take a look at the route beforehand to help you plan your pacing strategy. Running coach Greg McMillan says: “we would like to be robots who can turn the dial to goal pace and just run, but we’re human. When we encounter a slight hill or turn, it makes all the difference.”
With larger races, the crowds at the start can make it difficult to hit your target pace right away, but don’t panic and give yourself a mile or two to get into your pace, by which point the crowds should have thinned out.
6. Enjoy the race
The Royal Parks is one of London’s most popular half marathons, so remember to have a good time. “Remember to enjoy it” says Craggs, “sometimes take the headphones out, suck the crowd in, when you get to those last few miles dedicate each one to someone important in your life. You’ll bring it home and have a fantastic race.”