Half Marathon Racing Strategies

The big day is almost near. It’s time to start thinking about how to approach the half marathon distance on race day. This day is no different than any other long run on group training days, with the exception of several thousand other people running. It’s like one BIG group long run, which can be very fun and exciting! However that doesn’t always calm the nerves; therefore we have several strategies to keep you focused.

Pacing  With the adrenaline pumping through the body, it is all too often easy to get caught up in the moment and go out way too fast at the sound of the gun. Another reason for going out too fast, rather than slower, is fear of not making up lost time from a slow start. Both have negative effects on race performance. Going out fast depletes glycogen stores at a much faster rate as well as increases lactate accumulation and oxygen consumption. This leaves you drained of energy and running at a drastically slower pace early on in the race. According to Jeff Galloway, for every second run too fast in the first 3 miles, you will run as much as 10 seconds slower per mile at the end of a 10k. Imagine what would happen in a longer race such as the half marathon distance. Two pacing tactics which have proven success are negative splits and even paced racing.

Negative splits The runner starts slowly and gradually speeds up during the second half of the race with an extra push in the last one or two miles. This allows the body to conserve glycogen for utilization later in the race and experience less fatigue for a longer period of time.

Even-paced racing The runner’s effort is evenly distributed during the race and mile splits are approximately the same (i.e. 9 min/mile). This is the most efficient means of using energy reserves and maintaining energy levels consistently throughout the race. To maintain effort, laminate a pacing chart (provides mile splits) and carry it with you.

Heat and Humidity Play a Role on Pacing Research shows pace slows down past 55 degrees. Humidity will play even more of a factor, significantly slowing down pace even more. Going out too fast in heat and/or humidity will increase risk of heat injury. While this may not be the case in Philadelphia, it’s good to know for future races where this may play a factor.

3 Parts of the Race


  • Avoid going out too fast, possibly slowing pace up to 30 seconds slower than desired race pace. Time will be made up later in the race where it counts.
  • Run your pace, not the pace of runners around you.
  • Line up with runners of your ability and avoid weaving in and out of runners (this takes up energy).
  • Settle into pace around mile 2 and keep pace under control to mile 5.


  • Time to pick up the pace, however not at a 5k pace.
  • Weather and/or how you feel may alter your goal pace. Be smart. If things are not in your favor, it’s best to re-evaluate your goal-finishing time.

End - It’s likely to experience discomfort at this point no matter how well pace is kept.

  • Focus on staying relaxed. Shake out the arms and remember to un-shrug the shoulders.
  • Maintain pace, breathing, rhythm and form.
  • Avoid slumping. This shortens the stride and slows down the pace. A strong core will reduce the likelihood of slumping.
  • Depending on how you feel, adjust pace up or down. If you feel good in the last few miles, pick it up.

The physical part of running 13.1 miles is half the battle, the other half is mental.

As the distance increases so does the aches and pains of running 13.1 miles. To avoid the little gremlins in your head asking you if you can do this, there are tricks you can play to keep your focus and block them out.

Play Catch Up - In the second half to the last third of the race, focus on trying to catch the person in front of you rather than wondering when you are going to reach the finish line is. Remember to maintain running etiquette and if the person is too far ahead, try a different tactic to stay focused.

Dedicate Miles – For each mile, dedicate it to a person of importance to you. Think about this person and how they have impacted your life during this mile. This is another great tool to use when focusing on one mile at time. The miles fly by when doing this rather than focusing on how many more miles to go, especially in the beginning of the race. 

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