We’re counting down the days now, the training is (mostly) done and the objective now is making sure nothing goes “wrong” in the last two weeks!  Not be all fire and brimstone, but the point is that with so little time remaining, we’re in the territory where there’s not a lot you can do to make your race better, but there is quite a bit you can do to make it worse!

Of course, your priority right now should be on retaining your discipline in the taper, as I wrote about last week, and staying healthy, eating well, and generally keeping your routine in place.  However, what you can also do is to start gearing your mind for the challenge ahead, and specifically, to think about how you plan to run the race.

Of course, this is what your training has been trying to achieve too.  Whether you were aware or not, every training session you’ve done has been teaching you cues, lessons, raising your self-awareness so that you can control yourself on race day.  But now, as we get ever closer, it’s time to actively switch on and “tune in” to pace so that you can develop your race plan.

At this point, let me acknowledge that we’re not all meticulous planners.  I’m a scientist, so it’s in my nature to plan and project, to measure and to manage.  You may be more “instinctive”, and not wanting to ‘run to the numbers’, which is perfectly fine.  I’m not asking you to comply with a robotic formula for the race, but what I am saying is that your expectations and your projections exist, either consciously or unconsciously, and you can’t hide from the fact that you need to pace yourself well if you’re going to have a good day out.

What pacing basically refers to is how you spend your budget.  It’s like starting the month with a paycheck, and knowing where and when you’re going to spend it.  If you go out for a week and buy expensive champagne and dinners, you’re drinking water for the rest of the month.  It’s the same when you run – if you go out too hard, and spend your physiological budget too aggressively in the first half of the race, then you’ll be paying major interest in the second half of the race.

So you need to have some kind of plan in place to avoid this, even if your plan is “I will have a conversation with my mates for the first 20km”.  If that’s what you know will help you slow down, so that you have more in reserve for the next 36km, then that’s what you do. For others, it may mean using our pacing bands, and knowing, for instance, that if you want to break 6 hours, you need to aim to reach the 21km mark in 2:08, the 28km mark in 2:52 and the marathon point in 4:21.  

This means, in turn, knowing what Chapman’s Peak requires – what’s your goal pace on the climb?  How about as you descend in Hout Bay? How fast, or rather, how slowly do you need to run to hit your targets without frying your legs?

For the half marathoners, if your goal is to break 2 hours, then what is it going to take on Edinburgh Drive, and then the descent?  Again, I’m not suggesting you micro-manage every single kilometer of the race, but it’s important to appreciate that if you’re aiming for a time, you must have some idea of how to achieve it!

If you are simply aiming to finish, the same principles apply.  You need to measure your effort, for the obvious reason that if you max out at halfway, you’ve got no chance of finishing comfortably.   The challenge is that the adrenaline of race day causes people to over-estimate their ability.

Or rather, they underestimate their own levels of fatigue.  You’d be amazed at how many people feel fabulous at halfway, or even three-quarters, and then fall apart completely.  That wouldn’t happen on a training run, but it does in a race, because we interpret the cues poorly. When our body is saying “slow down”, we say “No, I feel good”, because we’re carried along on the wave of adrenaline and social energy, thousands of runners around us.

You need to be aware of that, and appreciate that if you’re wanting to finish strong, then the best approach is to ask yourself “How is my pace, am I going slowly enough?”, and when you say “Yes”, then say “But I’m going to slow down just a little more, just in case!”.

That’s the prudent approach, particularly for the novices among you, if you haven’t yet learned the demands of the distance and the route.  For those going for times, the Type A personalities, by all means, plan your race, and then put it out there on race day – you’ve done the training, so don’t be afraid to take some risks.  Just don’t be reckless.

But for the rest, it’s crucial that you aim to finish strong.  And finishing strong means starting relatively more conservatively, because that’s the way you finish with a smile on your face, feeling like you’ve conquered the race.  So start thinking about this, and in your training runs, practice some mantras, some sayings, some thought patterns, that you know will help you on race day!