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Twenty one (point one) tips to run your best half-marathon

Montreal Half-Marathon.

Whether your goal is to run your fastest race yet or simply finish with a smile, these tips will help you run your best race.

(Ottawa, ON --- May 30, 2010) MICHEL BUNNY EMON running in the marathon during the Ottawa Race Weekend. Photograph copyright Sean Burges / Mundo Sport Images

1. Train for it. This should go without saying but you’ll definitely need to train in order to finish a half-marathon. Hopefully that training included running regular mileage over several weeks, a few faster workouts at race pace and long runs that prepare you to go the distance.

2. Take time to taper. The week before the race is time to rest, recover and feel refreshed. This means less running. Reduce your overall training volume by as much as 50 per cent but maintain a bit of intensity to avoid feeling stale.

3. Consider a carbo load. Aim to eat a higher concentration of carbohydrates in the two-to-three days before the race. This will ensure you’re well fuelled and have enough energy stores for the race. Aim to ingest 8-12 grams of carbs per kilogram body weight to get the full effect.

RELATED: Fuelling for performance: Carbo-loading dos and don’ts

4. Sleep as much as you can. Since you might not sleep so soundly the night before, try to ‘bank’ some sleep over the week before.

5. Have a pre-race plan. This includes everything from what time you get up on race morning; what you eat and drink; what you plan to bring to the race; how you get there; what you wear, etc. etc. Think and plan ahead to minimize your stress on race morning.

6. Have a race plan/goal. Whether it’s to simply finish or finish the distance faster than ever before, having a goal (or better yet, a few of them) will give your run purpose and help keep you accountable. Be sure to set specific, measurable and realistic/attainable goals.

7. Eat something before the race. Even if it’s something small, you’ll want to refuel and top up by eating some simple carbs and protein. Simple options could be a bagel with peanut butter; oatmeal with nuts or raisins; or even an energy bar and sports drink.

8. Study the course. It’s definitely useful to have a general idea of where you’re going and is also one less thing to worry about. More often than not that you’ll have fellow participants to follow and helpful volunteers to keep you on course but it’s always good to be safe rather than sorry.

9. Line up appropriately. The start of any race will be hectic and stressful. Make sure you start in the right place (in the corrals) so you’re not getting passed by faster runners or wasting unnecessary energy passing slower runners.

10. Don’t start out too fast. This is the number one mistake made by both new and experienced runners. It’s hard not to get caught up in the early excitement of the start but it’s so important you run your own race/pace and not goo out too quickly.

RELATED: Why a fast start can cause a slow finish

11. Find your rhythm. The first few kilometres should be spent getting comfortable, finding a steady pace and rhythm and hitting your goal pace.

hydration drinking during a race

12. Stay fuelled and hydrated. Regardless of conditions, be sure to drink a bit of water or sports drink along the way to stay well hydrated. Even a few sips at every other station is better than nothing at all. If you’re taking gels, chews or another energy product, do so regularly at the pre-determined times/distances.

RELATED: Practice fuelling and hydration on the run

13. Run your own race. There will be plenty of other runners, some going faster; others slower. The only pace that matters is your own so resist the temptation to keep up with someone else (or slow down when they do) and just focus on your own race, your body and your pace.

14. Break the race into smaller parts. Think of a half-marathon as simply two 10Ks plus a final 1.1K. It’s also a 10 mile (16.1K) tempo and then a hard 5K at the end. However you slice it, focus on the section of the race you’re running and not worry about what’s still to come.

15. Self assess mid-run. Once you’ve reached the half-way (~10K) point, it’s important to ‘check in’ with yourself and see how you’re feeling. Hopefully you’re relaxed, running comfortably and still have lots of energy and enthusiasm for the finish.

16. Adjust your pace as needed. If you do feel like you’re struggling and running harder/faster than you think you can maintain to the finish, slow your pace slightly (and perhaps temporarily). If you feel like you’re not working hard enough, try picking up the pace and seeing if it feels okay.

17. Flex some mental muscle. No doubt about it, a half-marathon is tough both on the body and the mind. Between the time you start and the moment you finish you’ll likely have to beat occasional boredom, overcome negative thinking and negotiate with physical pain and soreness. Be resilient, confident and commit to the task at hand.

18. Consider the conditions. Not every race day will be perfect. And while it’s silly to expect ideal conditions (or get upset when they aren’t), it’s important to adjust your expectations based on the circumstances. Extreme weather such a hot temperatures, humidity or wind as well as pouring rain, snow or crazy cold temps will all affect your race. So too will a hilly course, uneven terrain or lots of frequent turns. Be reasonable and flexible about your goals and expectations.

19. Don’t give up. No matter your speed/pace or level of experience, we all reach the point when we want to stop, slow down or quit altogether. It’s so important that we overcome this moment, carry on and keep moving toward the finish.

20. Run a negative split. Any good race is one in which you finish faster than you started (called a negative split). This is why it’s so important to avoid starting too fast and having something left for a fast/strong finish.

Finish line

21. Finish strong and with a smile on your face. You might not feel so great at the end but remember how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished along the way. You are about to complete a half-marathon which is no small feat. Be proud of your hard work and celebrate your achievement.

21.1. Sign up for another race. Whether you had a good day, your best day or one in which you struggled to finish, there’s always another starting line to get excited about and which can help keep you focused/motivated on striving for new goals.