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Racing routine

February 26, 2010
Some of the kit I'll be taking for the Bath Half - including snacks and safety pins.

The moment a race brochure turns out to be anything other than a photocopied sheet and your race number has a coloured band, you know you've signed up to a big race.

There are many different types of running race – distances range from 100m up to hundreds of kilometres (for the dedicated ultra runner), terrain varies from a flat and precise oval of track or a well-paved road to dirt trails laced over mountains and wading through rivers. The number of runners varies too, from fewer than 100 runners barely able to see each other as the pack spreads out to tens of thousands of runners jostling for space.

Part of the reason I’m running the Bath Half Marathon on 7 March is to get a feel for running alongside thousands of other runners, all with different ability levels, different perceptions of their own ability levels and different race tactics. Starting with a PB in mind, the first mile down a slight hill, and with the stampede of 15,000 pairs of feet nudging over the line at the firing of the gun. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the chance of me starting the race too fast.

I’ve only run one half marathon race before (although I’ve done beyond the distance countless times in training for the Paris Marathon), and that was with a field of a little under 1000. It was a very different race from what I’m expecting of Bath. But in going into the race with a plan, there are a couple of things I want to keep in mind.

  1. When I started the Burnham Beeches Half Marathon, I was flustered. It had taken me an age to find the car park, it was a long trek to the baggage storage and by the time I got to the start line, it was uncomfortably close to the start time. This time I’m catching the train to Bath – parking is virtually guaranteed to be a bit of a ‘mare – and I’m scheduled to be at the runners’ village a good 90 minutes before the starting gun. Despite this, I need to allocated time to depositing my bag, getting to the starting zone and warming up.
  2. While it’s tempting to make for the edges of the pack and be opportunistic about darting past other runners in the first mile, it’s also a bad idea. Surges in the early stages of the race build lactic acid and sap glycogen, leaving you with less in the tank to finish with. Keep it steady and build pace in the second half of the race.
  3. Drinking will be important, not just for this race, but as preparation for the marathon. I’ve ordered a pack of Lucozade gels to take on my longest runs, so I’ll have one run with a real nutrition strategy in advance of the race (as opposed to my improvised disaster). The Bath Half is almost crazily over-supplied with energy drink stations (three over the course of the race), so I’ll be experimenting with taking on glucose at race pace.

For me, a routine around the race is probably one of the most important things for making it to the start line and feeling relatively in control of the situation. While it may seem over-kill to be mentally preparing for the race over a week before the actual day – gathering safety pins, snacks and regularly checking maps and start times – it’s part and parcel with trying to control all the variables that can contribute to a good racing experience.

If you think this is bad, just wait until Paris appears on the horizon – I’m already fretting just a tiny bit about breakfast.

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