Half-Dozen for the Half-Marathon
1. This is number one because it is absolutely the most important, and universally the most ignored.
Don’t eat, wear or do anything on race day you’ve not done in training.
NOT eating your bodyweight in pasta the night before. Carb loading is largely ineffectual anyway and you really don’t want to gamble with your digestive system.
NOT grabbing the free Lucozade on offer during the race – unless you’ve practiced with it. Trust me, if you’re not used to it, it could give you severe stomach cramps… or worse. Again, don’t gamble with your guts.
NOT guzzling energy gels for breakfast, jelly babies or anything else you’ve been told will make you go faster that you’re not used to. Try not to eat anything substantial within about 90 minutes of the start. Once again, I refer you to the polite allusions to the avoidance of pooing your pants, above.
NOT over-hydrating. Drink to thirst. Apart from the inconvenience and discomfort of a full bladder, hyponatremia (over hydration) is a very real risk and much more dangerous than dehydration.
NOT wearing brand new trainers, t-shirt, pants, sports bra or socks. A rogue badly stitched seam can go from a niggly hot-spot to bloody raw welt before you know it.
2. Don’t overdress, even if you wake up to typically ‘mild’ March weather (and the forecast looks particularly chilly).
Yes, you’re going to be waiting around before the race for quite some time. You’re going to feel a bit cold. But you’re just about to run 13.1 miles and you’re going to heat up; carrying a jumper or jacket tied around your waist the whole way is really, really annoying and uncomfortable.
When you check your bags in, you should be able to grab a free bin liner (I always take my own just in case). Make a hole for your head and that bin liner will keep you toasty until you cross the start line.
Otherwise, take an unwanted jumper and some trackie bottoms. Before you cross the start line, take them off and leave them by the side of the road. The race organisers usually collect them and donate them to charity.
3. Don’t underdress at the finish. When you’re running, your body could be generating 2 Kilowatts of heat and it’ll be doing everything to shed that heat and keep your core temperature low. As soon as you stop, you could be generating as little as 2 Watts of heat, but your body will still be trying to cool itself. Worst-case scenario: hypothermia (quite rare, but I've seen it happen). Make sure you’ve plenty of warm clothing in your bag. You may have to queue to get this, so wrap yourself in the foil blanket you’ll get after you’ve crossed the finish line. Huddle for warmth with a friend. Steal your friend’s coat. Slice them open and crawl into their warm stomachs… hold on, that’s horses… been watching too much Bear Grylls.
4. Lube up. You should, by now, have an idea of where you’re susceptible to chafing. Get the Vaseline out and apply liberally. You should also be able to find members of St John’s Ambulance at various points en route who’ll be waving around large dollops of Vaseline on the end of a rubber-gloved hand. If you’re chafing, treat it as early as possible.
5. Don’t get dragged into someone else’s race. There’s a very real tendency to look at other runners and think, ‘I should be in front of them.’ Before you know it, you’re running faster and faster towards a brick wall. Run at your own pace. Even if someone in fancy dress passes, don’t panic. Some of the runners in panto horse get-up are seriously fast club runners. Put them in shorts and a t-shirt and you wouldn’t see them for dust.
If you’ve targeted a finishing time, look for one of the pacemakers – they’ll be holding up a big sign with a time marked on it. These guys will run dead-on their given pace all the way round and will always give plenty of encouragement to the runners around them.
6. Enjoy yourself! Of course, you’re going to find it hard. At times it’ll feel really hard. Maybe you’ll want to give up. But at other times you’re going to feel magnificent. Like a hero. Like Mo.
Even if the endorphin rush never hits, take a moment to appreciate the sheer joy of tackling something at the edge of your physical ability. Where the route is lined with spectators, they will cheer you on regardless of how fast you are. Soak it up, enjoy the adulation, you deserve it!
PS – Good luck to all the Movement Clinic runners who will be giving their all on Sunday, including all the members of the 100-Mile Run Team, most of whom will be running the furthest they've ever run before!