half marathon racing tips + my #rnrchi goals

I don’t think it’s any secret that my goal for Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago is to PR.  I’ve been training for a PR and am more determined than EVER to make this MY race.  Honestly, I feel more than ready to PR here – I really don’t have much a doubt in my mind that I can actually break 1:35.  My speed is back and my endurance is good.  The only thing that has me worried is the weather – and how my body feels on race morning, which are both completely out of my control.  The only thing I can do at this point is hope and pray that every thing goes the way it is supposed to.

The last 2 times I’ve run in Chicago, the weather has done me in.  The Chicago Marathon back in 2010:  the weather was ridiculously hot for October and by mile 18, I was DONE.  I just couldn’t run any more and didn’t have the energy to run fast when I was running.  Last year at RNRCHI, I really wasn’t going for anything but to finish, but again, the weather got to me.  The last 2 miles drug on and I just really wanted to be done by that point.  But, again, I really feel that my training has sufficiently prepared me for humidity and I’m confident that my legs can take me 13.1 miles in less than 1:35.  (Dear Lord, I hope I’m right!)  No, but really, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this prepared for a race before – I have lots of mileage and speed work behind me and I’ve been training hard all summer.  It’s the first summer in awhile where I’ve done a decent amount of speed training and strength training, which means I am stronger than I have been in a long time.  I’m ready, Chicago!

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Even though I have trained hard and feel prepared for this race, I still go in to EVERY race I run with some sort of strategy.  To me, it is one of the most essential components to training.  You can train hard and fast – you can even BE fast – but you are not going to run a good, successful race without some sort of strategy going into race day.  This is something I had to work a lot on with my track runners (and now I get to add cross country to my coaching resume too – I’ll be coaching the middle school cross country team this fall!!!!!!).  While I had several athletes who could run FAST and win most races, they absolutely NEEDED to have a racing strategy.

Here’s a prime example:

One of my fastest 800 runners was actually a sprinter.  I didn’t get to do much training with him since I worked with the distance kids, but it didn’t matter what he raced in, he was going to win just because the kid was FAST.  His second 800 race that he ran for me, he took off at the gun as if he was running a 400.  He was probably 100-meters ahead of the second place kid.  He ran his first lap in probably just over 60-seconds.  With 300-meters left to go, he could barely jog.  The lactate acid in his legs built up so fast from going out way too fast that he totally bonked with less than half the race to go.  Lesson learned.  We chatted about how to race an 800 and he won every other 800 he ran for me.

So, racing strategy plays just as much of a role in a PR as your training.  These are my TOP THREE tips to racing a half marathon successfully:

The Concrete Runner - Half Marathon Racing Tips

#1.  Don’t go out too fast!  Just like my track kid, you cannot – I repeat, CANNOT – go out too fast at the start of the race.  I know how hard this is.  The crowd is cheering, you’re surrounded by a bunch of other runners, you are just so excited to be running the race you have trained so hard for.  I’ve been there.  Believe me.  It’s hard to hold back.  But, when you are supposed to be running around an 8-minute mile average pace for your race and you run it in 7:30 or 7:15 something, you are asking to die toward the end of the race.

You HAVE to hold yourself back.  I practice this even with my 5Ks – I don’t want to start in the front because that means I have to set the pace, and naturally, I’m going to want to run as fast as humanly possible.  If I did this, I would surely die after the first mile.  Instead, I let a few people get in front of me and set the pace for me.  I might even let them get 100 yards in front of me.  But, I know that I like to chase people down and can catch up to them because I have SO MUCH TIME left in the race to make up for it.

Take it easy on that first mile.  Enjoy the crowd!  Enjoy the fact that you are running!  But, you have to start conservatively.  You have plenty of time to pick up your speed!

#2.  Ignore your split times.  At a lot of races, especially marathons and half marathons, they even hand out temporary tattoos for the splits you need for each mile in order to run a certain time.  DON’T DO IT!  I know how tempting it is to want to make sure you stay on track to hit the time you want.  I know how much you want to run with that pacer in order to get your PR.  And while those pacers are great, what if you’re having a REALLY great race?  What if instead of the 8-minute per mile pace you are holding, you actually could be running a 7:30/mile?  That’s almost 8 minutes FASTER that you could have run!  And you were so worried about your splits, you cost yourself an 8 minute PR.  That really sucks.

Now, I am absolutely not saying you should not run with a pace group or look down at your watch at your splits.  Believe you me, when I feel that buzz from my watch, I absolutely look down during a race to check my time.  But, it is not my end-all-be-all.  Those paces DO help keep me on track, but I want to run at a pace that feels GOOD to me.  If you see a time that is slower than you want to run, try to speed up.  But, if you can’t hold that faster pace, don’t let your watch keep you from running a good race.  I’d much rather run a slower split and feel good, than have to DNF because I was trying to keep a pace I “needed” to and just couldn’t because it wasn’t my day.  Which brings me to…

#3.  There are other races.  Let it go.  As I said earlier, you cannot predict how the weather is going to be or how you are going to feel on race day.  Sure, you have trained your butt off to do well at this race, but that doesn’t mean it is going to go the way you want it to go.  We can only control a certain amount of the race, but most of it is completely out of our control.  I absolutely want to PR this weekend – that has been my goal all along.  But, I know that despite how great my training has been and how prepared I feel for this race, I cannot control everything that happens on race day.

AND THAT’S OK.  Because guess what?  There are other races!  Imagine that!  There WILL be other races.  I have yet to find a person who has run a race and said, “Nope.  Never again am I doing that!”  (OK, I’ll admit that after the Chicago Marathon, I was pretty much done with marathons.)  But, if you are THAT determined, you will find another race and you know what?  You WILL get that PR.  Sure, it’s not this race that you’ve trained for, but now you have such a good base built up, training for another half marathon is going to seem easy.  And you’ll probably get faster anyway.

So, don’t worry if you are having a bad race.  Chances are it’s just not your day.  Just remember that there will be other races in the future and you’re just becoming stronger physically AND mentally for the next one!

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One of the things I do with every one of my athletes is work on a specific race strategy that will help them run their best race and help them be successful.  Every single runner is different and have different racing needs.  It’s important to work with your coach to ensure that you are best prepared for your race by develop a racing strategy that is specific to your goals and needs.

Don’t have a coach?  I would love to help you run your next PR with a personalized running program and racing strategy that will ensure you have the best race possible!  Contact me at info@theconcreterunner.com for more information about my VIP Running Programs.  Or if you’re just looking for a training plan for your upcoming race, I offer 5K, 10K, and half marathon training plans for athletes of all levels!

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