Your Half Marathon Race: Be proactive for a fun race day!
Racing is a game but it is also a commitment. You have signed up, you have prepared, you have got yourself to the starting line and all that’s left to do is to enjoy the scenery, the people and the brilliant feeling of completing what you set out to do.
A great event experience starts the day before the race with an intention to rest your legs and fuel your body. The day before the race, try to conserve energy and eat three good meals that are carbohydrate rich in order to top up glycogen in the muscles. Avoid anything that is unusual: this includes novel sport activities or eating food that you would normally never eat. Stick to what you know works for you.
A seamless and stress free morning paves the way for an enjoyable event so before you go to bed the night before the race, organize for the morning so things run smoothly and you aren’t looking for lost items at the last minute. Lay out your race clothes including your warm ups and your number. Plan your breakfast timing and items and most importantly, your morning mindset. The last thing you should tell yourself at night is this:
Tomorrow morning I get to wake up and race!
On the race morning, you will be ready. You know what to wear, what to eat and where to go for the start. Your mindset will be one of excitement and anticipation about the great opportunity to run well and work on being efficient, smooth, and emotionally strong and positive.
A half marathon gives you plenty of time to experience the joy of running well, which includes—if you are pushing yourself—embracing discomfort and staying mentally strong through any rough patches where doubt and negativity like to creep in. Look at the rest of the participants, and the enthusiastic volunteers, as a great big ball of positive energy pushing you on. This is what you signed up for! Anticipate the late race fatigue and have some tools on hand to re-focus. Task oriented self-talk is always good at this point. Focus on your arms, your feet, your breath, being relaxed…can do action items that you control.
Great racing always focuses on what you can do, not what you ‘hope’ to do. Here is a step by step breakdown of what to expect over the course of a half marathon.
1. About 30 minutes before the start do a gentle warm up. Run 10-15’ super easy, super slow, and stretch gently anything that feels tight. Stay warm before the race as long as possible
2. Have a nutrition plan. A gel 10 minutes before the start and at 45 minutes into the race is standard. Plan for small sips of fluid at aid stations every time.
3. Divide the race into logical segments: the first 10k is moderate to conservative. For the first 5k many people go out too fast. If you stick to your goal pace, or a conservative pace you will be creating an opportunity for a strong second half.
4. 10-15k , the pace will start to feel harder, and you want to focus on maintaining pace and energy output, making it ‘feel’ easier by relaxing, tuning into smooth stride and strong body.
5. 15-19k —this is a crucial part of the race. You are beginning the countdown to home, so you need to put more mental effort into keeping the pace, managing feelings and just being in the moment, not judging how you are doing, but feeling proud of WHAT you are doing. This is where you remember of all the great runs you have done, and your own competency. Your great efforts at 15-19k count a lot towards your post-race satisfaction.
6. 19-21k---you have only minutes left in the race. How strong can you be for 10 minutes? I don’t mean turning on the jets, but running strong and proud for the last mile and a half!
7. Be prepared for the last km and to have a lot of fun. Race yourself, race others, race the clock, enjoy the finish line vibe and give it everything right to the wire. You’ll be happy you did.
As a coach and an athlete, I never rely solely on hope or luck for a great race but I do know this:
If you are prepared, the magic will happen.
Lululemon Ambassador and LifeSport coach Lucy Smith is a former Canadian Champion for the half marathon with a PR of 1:13:35. She has coached and inspired hundreds of runners and triathletes to personal best efforts.
The Game of Racing: Make Every Move Count
The spring and summer racing season is here. After months of dedication, preparation and dreaming, runners are gearing up for races: from 5k to marathons, eager to test out their fitness. In the coming months there will be ups and downs: this much is true. There will be some great moments, some incredible victories and some races that are...well...downright disappointing.
Racing is a game. It is a competitive arena, a test of determination, strength, skill and savvy. Some of the games are more important than others; some come heavily weighted with expectations and goals. Some races are just for fun, to remind us how to enjoy the game. All races are opportunities to excel, to show mastery and skill and to learn. Racing is not about the race. Racing is about the doing and the pursuit of your own potential. This is what makes it so satisfying.
There is no magic to racing well. You have to be ready to embrace every situation. Having a great race is like any good fortune though: it is a combination of experience, impeccable preparation and things outside of your control all going your way. While ‘Beginner’s luck’ is often true, good racing comes from pure experience and reflection, from being a student of the sport and from loving the game.
Racing is a combination of being internally focussed on your best effort at all times, while being aware of external factors: knowing the course and knowing your competition (and using this knowledge to your advantage). External factors in racing also include having a strategy, pacing well, and making solid (and quick) in-race decisions.
Nowhere can you watch this game unfold better than on the track in middle and long distance races, where runners jockey for position, use patience and tactical skill and unleash their full running potential all at the same time. On the track, athletes are forced to run in a tight pack, and the good racers can run behind the leaders patiently, immersed in the act of racing, fully present in the grace of their movements. There is no anxiety in their position, but their senses are wide open, looking for opportunities to challenge, to make a move, to take advantage of a small opening as soon as it presents itself.
If racing well means being fully immersed in the experience of the moment, how do great racers look at what’s unfolding around them? Being externally aware is both necessary and crucial, but that awareness is purely objective and not hinged on the self in endless negative self talk: am I doing ok? You have to run with your cognitive senses wide open and with complete inner confidence that you are doing right.
In other words, the external awareness has to be free of anxiety. The freedom from anxiety is easier for some athletes than for others, but all athletes can hone this ability. To illustrate, consider a situation in which you are racing close to another competitor. As you run, you can focus on running in rhythm with them, and creating a positive feeling around this aspect of the race. The external awareness of racing, footsteps, breathing and moving is a huge part of the sport. There is no anxiety in this moment, until you bring it in. Wondering if you can maintain pace, who will win in the end, and if you are doing well enough are all irrelevant thoughts that creep in out of habit. The game of racing dictates that you can be relaxed when racing side by side, enjoy the competitive arena in which you find yourself, and know that getting to the finish line first isn’t about fear, it’s about the game. Your competitor is merely a player in that game.
Another way of looking at it is to consider the aspects of pacing and patience. Pacing requires patience. Being patient and knowing that you can run on someone's shoulder with patience, confidence and attention is crucial. In the strategic game of sport, it is sometimes worthwhile to sit back behind someone. A great athlete can lead, or follow with the same confidence in their ability. Following means to run your race, from behind.
The best athletes are great learners: they take home lessons from every experience. The biggest factors to success are continuing to learn and making it fun. View your sport as a game, a game in which you are a key player in your own success, and make very move count.
LifeSport coach Lucy Smith has been competing for over 25 years, is a 19 time Canadian Champion in running and multisport, a 2 time Silver Medallist at World Championships and mother of 2. She has inspired and helped hundreds of runners through her articles, her book ‘First Triathlon’ and motivational speeches.
Small Details for Big Gains over the Long Run
Once you have your training plan set and have a weekly schedule for getting yourself prepared for the distance, there are a few other details to get to the start line in optimal comfort and speed. What to eat while training and what to put on your feet are two questions that come up with beginner runners.
Ever been out running and started to feel light headed and a bit weak in the knees? Or finished your long Saturday run dreaming of milkshakes and bacon? Perhaps you have heard of ‘the Wall’? Chances are your body needed more calories, even if you feel you ate a good supper the night before. On training runs over ninety minutes, athletes should plan to take in 200-300 calories per hour. Your body has roughly two hours worth of carbohydrates available for exercise and you need to start replacing those calories early in the run, not after you start to run out of fuel. The body burns through carbohydrates in strenuous exercise and replacing calories lost has been proven to improve performance in endurance racing and training. Athletes who take in calories while training finish their long runs stronger and therefore receive a greater training effect. Taking a PowerBar gel with sips of water (200-400ml) every 30’ starting 30’ into the run is one of the easiest ways to replace calories and electrolytes lost through sweat. There are a plethora of carbohydrate drinks and gels on the market and the only way to figure out the correct formula of calories and type of replacement fuel for each athlete is to try it out in training.
Glycogen is a readily available fuel stored in your muscles and organs that can be called on immediately for energy needs. When topped up, your body will store about 2 hours worth of glycogen for endurance activities. However, when this glycogen starts to run out and is not supplemented with nutrition, the muscles will become depleted of fuel and begin to falter. In extreme circumstances the body eventually goes into a self-preservation mode and directs the remaining fuel to the vital organs to stay alive, thus depriving the muscles. This is the ultimate Bonk and you may have observed it in marathons and Ironman when people start crawling to the line.
2: Fueling the body.
If we have only 2 hours of glycogen for fuel, then how do you fuel for a race that my take 4 hours? Well if you were only using stored glycogen for fuel, you wouldn’t make it. However, the body can preserve glycogen levels by also using existing fats as fuel and ingesting calories primarily by taking on carbohydrates. If you can balance out your fuel burning system so that it uses all three systems, it is possible to prolong the glycogen depletion for a very long time. The body’s ability to ingest calories is lower than its ability to burn them during exercise so you must maximize the number of calories that your body can effectively ingest to optimize your performance.
3: How many calories (through carbohydrates) are needed?
The amount of calories you burn is generally proportional to your weight. Therefore, usually, the more you weigh the more calories you must ingest. It also varies from individual to individual and should be tested in training and racing. The range for caloric intake should be about 125-250 calories per hour. To give you an idea of what that means, the average 500ml sport drink has 120 calories with 30 grams of carbohydrates. The sports bars will vary but average around 200 calories with 25-40 grams of carbohydrates (check the label) and a sports gel will average around 100 calories with 25 grams of carbohydrates.
Most runners will stick with gels and liquid while running and racing. Solid food is difficult to digest during the rigours of running. Practice opening packets and sipping gels at timed intervals in training, and run with a water belt (available at most running retailers now, it is a wide comfortable belt that can hold up to 4 small bottles.) to practice taking small amounts of liquid while running.
Choosing the best running shoes for training and racing as both a personal and a technical issue.
Most experiences runners will typically have 2-4 pairs of shoes on the go at any one time. They will have lightweight trainers for tempo run days, cushioned trainers for the long run, and racing flats. Once they find a pair that fits, athletes will often buy multiple pairs of the same shoe to ensure they have a stockpile of their favourites. This is a lot of shoes! Your top priority is to find shoes that fit well and that suit your foot, gait and biomechanics. The running shoe market is currently flooded with a plethora of nifty looking styles and models aimed at the active consumer. You must sift through the hype and trends and maintain a focus on getting the right shoe for maximal comfort and to lessen the chance of injury.
There are four basic types of running shoes out there: neutral and supportive, cushioned and lightweight. Generally, cushioned shoes have more midsole material and are used for longer endurance days as they provide more cushioning against the forces of landing, and lessen the impact of running on the body. A lightweight shoe is used for faster running: intervals, tempo and racing, where carrying less mass can increase speed. Neutral shoes work well for athletes with good biomechanics and efficient strides, and a supportive or corrective shoe works well for athletes with biomechanical deficiencies. The correction provided by the shoe can minimalize stresses to the knee, hips and back. Cushioned and lightweight shoes can be neutral or corrective. Within each category, there are also road and trail shoes. Technical trail shoes have been a great addition to the running shoe market. With a more studded outsole for good grip over rocks and roots, water shedding uppers to keep the foot dry and the ability to keep out pine needles and small rocks, a good trail shoe makes forest running a very enjoyable experience. (As a side note, doing a fair amount of your mileage on trails on softer surfaces may reduce the chance of injury as the reduced impact is a bit easier on your body.
Racing flats: comfort versus speed.
While some athletes can get away with a really lightweight shoe for racing, others prefer the comfort of more cushioning. In half and full marathon running especially, being comfortable and managing sore legs and calves is more important than pure marathon run speed, so a trade off to a more cushioned shoe can be the better choice. Testing out racing flats in a training time trial or a road running race will give you a good idea of how you adapt to a racing flat. Keep in mind that trainers are generally lightweight now because of the advancements in midsole technology so weight is not as big an issue anymore.
LifeSport coach Lucy Smith has been competing for over 30 years as an elite athlete in endurance events from 10k to Ironman triathlon. She is a 19 time National Champion in distance running and multisport. She is a certified running and triathlon coach and assists athletes of all abilities set goals and reach their potential through sport. For more information go to www.LifeSport.ca.
Run a Half Marathon: Stay outside in nature longer!
Long enough to get in a great running experience, but short enough that you don’t need months to recover, the half marathon lets you practice strong running and appreciate the beautiful scenery our communities have to offer. A half marathon provides a substantial and rewarding goal to runners looking to increase their physical and emotional strength. Running a half marathon is closer to running a 10k than running a marathon, and is a very attainable goal for anyone who has either run a 10k or can run for an hour nonstop. Choose an awesome course, like Seawheeze in Vancouver, and time will fly buy as you run through the glorious scenery of one of Canada’s most stunning cities.
Planning for and running a half marathon is an excellent way to boost your run fitness and expertise, and will provide lasting endurance and strength base that will carry over into the next run goal on your horizon. A half marathon will appeal to those runners who want to improve their running and for those who want to test their mettle without the heightened fatigue associated with the rigours of full marathon training.
Planning for and training for a half marathon should be structured around careful and progressive training starting several months out of the event. If you have run a 10k or can run for around an hour without stopping you can realistically run a half marathon by simply building in one longer training run each week. You don’t need to carve out many more hours each week for running, but plan for one longer training run each week, which increases in duration gradually, and gets you close to what you expect to run the half marathon in.
To stay healthy, increase the duration of your long run by 10 minutes every week and gradually working up to a run that will be close in duration to your expected finish time. Try to get out at least 2-3 other times for shorter runs during the week, or better yet, cross train to reduce impact and the chance of injury.
Other things to keep in mind when considering running longer distances are to maintain core strength and stability as this will reduce the chance of injury. Twice a week sessions of 20-30’ of core and stability after a run is a good start and adding basic running drills into one shorter run a week will help build strength of form that helps when fatigue sets in. Focus on quality during drills and it will transfer to efficient running in long sessions.
As your run duration increases, so do caloric needs. The body burns through carbohydrates in endurance exercise and replacing calories lost has been proven to improve performance over long endurance runs. As your runs get longer than ninety minutes, taking a product like a PowerBar gel every 45 minutes will help maintain energy.
A few more pointers for positive running:
‘Energy flows where attention goes’. This means paying attention to what you are doing and doing it well. Use a positive mind set and positive self talk as you run. Running can be tiring, and your mental state can get you through some of the harder days.
A relaxed body goes faster. While running, check your shoulders, neck and face for lack of tension. Breathing deeply and with a strong exhale rhythm is also a way to ingrain a relaxed form.
Make friends with the hills during your training runs. Look to the crest and run up and over the hill with rhythm, using arms slightly more to drive the knees up the hill. Being strong on hills in your training will help you on race day.
Half marathons are unique events for distance runners. Choosing a longer distance race means more time to enjoy the experience, longer time in nature and a vibrant opportunity to surround yourself with like minded others. Running a half is a wonderful goal for those who are dreaming about the marathon. The half will give you a taste of the adventure of longer distances while allowing you to maintain a similar training regime for 10k and shorter events.
Lucy Smith is a Lululemon Ambassador, 2013 and 2014 Seawheeze Winner and LifeSport coach. Lucy has had a successful professional distance running and multisport career that has earned her 19 National Championships and 2 Silver World Championships Medals. A coach, writer and mother of two, Lucy has inspired hundreds of runners through her blogs, speaking engagements and run clinics. Read more at www.runforjoy.ca