• Juan J. Arrieta

3 keys for race plan at Missoula Half Marathon

Updated: Jun 30, 2019

Disclaimer: I received free entry to the Missoula Half Marathon as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro by going to https://www.bibrave.com/bibravepro. Find full race reviews at www.bibrave.com.

Be familiar with start line layout, get to it early, warm-up, and do dynamic stretches

It is not a secret that arriving early to the start area of a race, warming up, and going through a dynamic stretching routine helps prepare us to be ready to perform as best as possible when the starting gun goes off. Top-rated races such as the Missoula Marathon publish clear maps or diagrams of starting areas such as the one below for this very reason. They understand how important this is to the logistics and ultimate success of a race and its participating athletes. This is a strategy that has worked me, as recently as just last week at Grandma's Half Marathon in Minnesota. While there, I caught one of the earlier buses taking runners to the start line and arrived there about an hour before the start time. Initially I felt that was too much time, but when it was all said and done it was actually perfect timing. I was able to relax and focus on my strategy, and had enough time to go the bathroom, go through my entire warmup routine, turn in my gear bag, and get to the corral area without rushing at all. All of that goes a long way to be calm and confident when the race starts, and I plan on doing the same thing again this Sunday in Missoula.

Ease into target pace

I have made the mistake of starting out too fast during races. On those occasions, I believe I had been thinking too much and stressing about a particular finish time and what it would take to hit it, and it resulted on me pressing too much in the early miles. I ended up paying the price, not being able to sustain it through the end. My pace on those races actually got worse and worse as the miles increased. Last week I promised myself that this aspect of my race at Grandma’s Half Marathon would be different, and I am quite happy to report I was successful in doing so. While I knew that I wanted to target approximately a 9:00/mile pace, I didn’t worry about that number initially. I just focused on establishing a medium perceived effort FIRST by getting into a good cadence and rhythm, and THEN on patiently making slight/small adjustments to be at or slightly below target pace. This strategy paid off big and helped me run according to textbook, where my time for the first half of the race (6.55 miles) was actually slower than the second half, as my splits show below.

For the Missoula Half this weekend, I plan to follow this same exact blueprint:

Not worry too much about my pace and time is for the first mile or two. Be patient and find my efficient rhythm. If it goes according to plan, something which is NEVER a given, my effort should yield similar results and help me run another sub-2 hour half marathon in Missoula. If it doesn't go as well, no stress at all---I'll simply enjoy being there, be thankful for being able to participate on a great experience at a beatiful location, surrounded by friendly and hospitable people, in what promises to be an outstanding event.

Break race down into 4 parts and push stronger on the last two miles

I have found that for half marathons, the mental game with the distance is more manageable when I break the race down into manageable chunks. For example, last week I focused by dividing the race into four blocks of three miles each, knowing that combined, those block translate to 12 miles, and that at that point I would have just slightly over 1 mile left to the finish line, 1.1 to be exact. Breaking the distance down that way feels less overwhelming to me. I just say and repeat to myself, “I’m on block 1, doing and thinking of those 3 miles only. Breathe, relax, and think about my stride—make it comfortable and efficient, neither too long nor too short”. Once I’ve hit 3 miles, I congratulate myself for knocking the first block down and then and only then do I allow myself to think about the next block, but ONLY about the next block, not beyond it. Once I’ve got block 2 down, I know I’m practically halfway done with the race already and all I’ve got to do is stay steady and consistent for only one more block to then be able to empty the tank and push the pace over the last one and finish strong. Obviously, all of this assumes that things will go well over the first couple of blocks, and I know full well that not all races go that way. However, even on those occasions in which they have not and I have struggled early, breaking down the 13.1 mile distance into blocks of smaller numbers such as 3X4 = 12 has helped me immensely to battle through all the way to the finish. When I reach mile 11 at Missoula this Sunday, I would love to be able to push strong over the remaining 2.1 miles than I did last weekend at Grandma’s. Even though my overall results there were great and am very happy with them, I feel that I did leave some fuel in the tank and thus that I could have pushed even harder in miles 12 and13 for an even stronger finish. Regardless, even if those stars don’t align that way, I feel I am ready for the challenge and am very much looking forward to the experience. So wish me luck.

So, wish me luck, here's to a great race in Missoula!

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