Half marathon race day tactics

If you’ve entered a half marathon, you probably don't need reminding that 13.1 miles or 21.1km is a long way, so it makes sense to have a clear race strategy which can really help you feel more confident and finish faster. Tactical errors are probably one of the biggest causes of post-race frustration for runners, so make sure you're one of those runners who don't have half marathon regrets.

Learn the course

There is no point meticulously planning a new PB if you then launch yourself at a course that you’re not familiar with.

Each of the SuperHalfs courses comes with its own unique challenge. There will be parts of each course where you need to push the pace, and others where the best approach would be to pull back slightly to reserve your energy.

Remember to also memorise the location of aid stations if you’re not going to be carrying your own fuel. Getting your fuelling strategy right and staying hydrated will give you the best chance of success, so knowing where on the course you’ll find these is key.

Do your homework by studying the course profiles below, and you’ll be rewarded with a much better time:

EDP Lisbon Half Marathon course
Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon course
Copenhagen Half Marathon course
Cardiff University Cardiff Half Marathon course
Valencia Half Marathon Trinidad Alfonso EDP course


The start

It’s all too easy to get carried away at the start on race day; your legs feel fresh from tapering and with some extra adrenaline flowing through your veins, you may well feel pretty invincible. Well, for the first 10 minutes at least!

An over-zealous start nearly always results in a slow and painful finish. Added to the pain and misery of a slow finish is the realisation that you can also kiss goodbye to an opportunity of running a PB.

To avoid temptation, start the race with runners of your ability, not those who are faster than you. Try to avoid weaving in and out of other runners, because this just wastes precious energy. Settle into a good rhythm and relax. It is supposed to be fun!

Paced to perfection

For an endurance event like a half marathon, conserving glycogen in the first half of the race is crucial. The smartest runners are those who spread their effort over the duration of the race by running even or negative splits (where the second half of the race is run faster than the first).

Ignore the myth of running your earlier splits faster than you need to in the hopes of saving ‘time in the bank’ for the end of the race. This rarely works, and will more often than not be detrimental to your performance in the long run. 

In fact, running too fast at the start of the race is generally when you’ll be most likely to hit the dreaded ‘wall’. This happens when you deplete your glycogen stores too early, and it’s very hard to recover from this and finish strongly.

You should still be smiling at 10km!

If you've paced your race well then you should still feel in control and still be smiling at the 10km mark (6.25 miles). 

Once you’ve reached this stage, now is the time to start to gradually increase your pace. But remember that this needs to be done in a controlled manner over the course of about 10 minutes. Don't be tempted to inject a sudden burst of speed, as it generally doesn’t work.

Take the racing line

Certified road race courses like those you’ll find at the SuperHalfs events are measured using the shortest route available. This means that running down the middle of the road isn't necessarily the fastest route. 

Focus on taking the race line, particularly if the road bends a lot. Running the tangents of a course is essentially free speed and could take several seconds off of your finish time. Stick as closely to the corners as you can and you won’t go far wrong.

Take advantage of drafting

If you’ve ever cycled or watched a cycling event, you’ll know that the tactic of drafting is commonly used as a means to conserve energy; the same tactic can be applied to half marathon running. 

The faster you run, the more energy is required to overcome air resistance and running into a headwind can also significantly increase energy costs. 

Try to 'tuck in' and shelter behind other runners, particularly if it's windy. Running in a group will also help you to maintain both pace and motivation.

Time your finish

Be sure to time your final surge to the line carefully. You may feel mentally that you are able to make one last effort, but after running 13.1 miles (21.1 km) your body might just have other ideas. 

A sudden increase in speed on fatigued legs could result in an untimely bout of cramp, which is the last thing you need at the latter stages of the race. 

If you feel you are able to, the best way to generate some extra speed at the end of the race is to gradually increase your tempo over the last 200m. Keep an eye out for countdown distance markers which will help you time your finish.