Marathon strategies and tactics

May 4, 2013


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Louis, Michelle, Andy and me - all running Milton Keynes marathon and Hadrian's Wall together.

Louis, Michelle, Andy and me – running Milton Keynes marathon and Hadrian’s Wall together.

I’m OK at running – I’m not the fastest runner – I can do a half in just under 2 hours and I’m working on improving that time.  With Milton Keynes marathon approaching this Monday, I’m looking at the weather and the course and wondering what my plan should be.

With a half marathon, (at roughly my pace) if you’ve trained well, you can keep up a near tempo pace for 1:50-2 hours, so going out at a reasonable speed, knowing that you can keep it up in the right conditions is possible.  A lot of people also split half marathons into two halves and take it easy on the first and then increase the pace slightly in the second.  I’ve used this approach a few times and it works well too.  Many experienced marathon-runners recommend it for a full marathon…..

Whether we like it or not there are a number of factors which will affect our race on the day.  Some are within our control, and some not.

Energy levels and glycogen stores. Not eating the right fuels in the days leading up to the event can be pretty disastrous.  I ran 20 miles the other day (it was 20 deg so it was also warmer than I was used to) and I hadn’t eaten the right kind of meal the night before.  I really felt that at the end of the 20 miles. Won’t be doing that again.

Weather. You London marathoners will be familiar with this one.  You train all Winter in temperatures close to freezing, and then on marathon day, suddenly Spring decides to appear and raise the temperature by 10 deg.  Brilliant. Cheers for that. Can’t plan for this one easily apart from getting out in the middle of the day during Spring at temperatures which might be the same as on race day.  The heat, if I haven’t trained for it, wipes me out – I run slower, but the worst part is how it makes me feel – awful and every step is painful, even if I’m well-hydrated.

Training. An obvious factor maybe, but there are different schools of thought, and some who just don’t worry about it at all.  😉  Generally I like to train for the full distance if I can.  I haven’t this time – I’ve only trained to 20 miles.  I find in any distance race, that I can tell you the exact point in the race where I have trained to distance-wise.  This to me, tells me that I should always try and do the full distance at least once before the actual race, but I guess we are all different.

Tapering. My running buddies know that I’m rubbish at this.  The day before Colchester Half, I cycled to the gym, went out with the running club and then did Circuits before cycling home again.  Probably not the best taper in the world.  For MK, I have been much more sensible.  People tell me that tapering works…..  😉

The Course. A few considerations such as whether or not the roads are closed, how wide the roads / paths are, how many people are running, how hilly it is, how open to the wind it is etc can all affect performance on the day.

Refueling & hydration. A tricky one to get right as Mo Farah discovered. Weeks and months of experimentation with various breakfasts, gels and figuring out how much water to carry prepare us for race day.  Luckily marathons are usually well-watered.  Taking on carbs during the race is a finely balanced process, and misjudging it can result in stomach cramps, or just pure exhaustion.

Head-ology. Thanks to my friend Neil for this one.  A lot of blogs and tips for marathon preparation talk about managing your own expectations on the day.  I couldn’t agree more! You can do yourself out of a PB if you get this wrong.  Conversely, some of the fastest races I have run are the ones where I had wholeheartedly decided not to go for a fast time and just to enjoy the run.  After discovering this, and before every race, I now figure out a good plan to trick myself with. It’s quite hard given that both of me are in the same head, but I fully recommend playing psychological games with yourself, and planning for a range of outcomes.

So arguably, the course and the weather are really the only things outside of our control.

The easy things I need to decide upon before Monday are these:

  • Where to start in the pack (not sure I’m too bothered)
  • Pre-race routine and breakfast (got that sussed)
  • What to wear (if I don’t know that now, I’m in trouble)

From a pacing perspective, I think it all has to be based around the head-ology plan and the range of outcomes that I’m going to be happy with, taking into account all the factors listed above.  So I probably won’t decide on whether I’m running for a PB or just going out to enjoy the day until half way through the race.  I’ll do time checks every 10k, and take my Garmin to monitor overall pace, and as long as it’s not too hot and I don’t go out too fast, I might just go for a PB.  We’ll see.

So – you Milton Keynes marathon runners – what’s your plan for race day?

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About Venessa Moffat

Marketing, Strategy and Growth Hacking specialist, with 20 years' experience in the Data Centre industry. Driven by data and analytics, Venessa uses lean startup techniques and intelligent feedback loops to maximise the learning, adaptation and growth opportunity. Obsessed with growth, her approach is both creative, but also leverages in-depth technical knowledge and experience for maximum value creation and excellent customer experience.

View all posts by Venessa Moffat


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One Comment on “Marathon strategies and tactics”

  1. Michelle Calver Says:

    Really looking forward to the run on Monday 🙂

    Spent the last wk making sure I eat the right food and drinking enough fluids.

    I have been struggling with muscle soreness, so I went for a massage tuesday and having early nights

    My plan for Monday is to enjoy myself as its just a training run for the ultra, enjoy the views and go with the flow, if I get a good time bonus, just want to really enjoy it.


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