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Team FatBird Marathon Race Strategies

Race Pacing and Strategy
Even the most thoughtful and carefully planned training can be for naught if you don't plan well and execute smoothly on race day.


Your marathon preparation occurs over several months. You plan meticulously and train diligently so that you are in peak condition. To do your best, you also need to have a plan for the marathon itself that anticipates the details: warm up, pacing, first few km, first half of the race, the final 5km and 400m.
Having a plan will help you get the most out of your long months of training so that you can finish exhausted but satisfied.

Warming up
The purpose of a warm-up is to prepare your body to run at race pace. Beginners, whose goal is to finish, can warm up during the first couple of miles of the race. However, if you are a more competitive marathoner, you will attempt to run the marathon faster than your normal training pace and need to find an optimal warm-up that activates your aerobic system while sparing as much glycogen as possible for the race itself. Plan to warm up with two five-minute runs with some stretching in between. Start warming up about 30 to 40 minutes before the start of the race. Start your first warm up run slowly, and gradually increase your pace. Try to time your warm-up so that you finish no more than 15-20 minutes before the race starts. Never over do it.

Your Pacing Strategy
No matter what distance you are running, hold yourself back in the early stages of the road race. After all your hard training, you are strong and powerful, and doubtless you are aching to push yourself. You'll get your chance, but save it for the end of the race when you'll need it. At the beginning, just concentrate on settling into a pace no faster than what you plan to be the average pace for the race overall. In a marathon, the first few km may feel ridiculously slow; think of them as warm-up miles and conserve your strength for the final stretch.

Assuming that you have a time goal for the marathon, and have trained accordingly, a pacing strategy will help you achieve your goal. That is where the role of Team FatBird comes into the picture!

The basics of marathon physiology indicate that the best strategy for the marathon is relatively even pacing. If you run much faster than your overall race pace for part of the race, then you'll use more glycogen than necessary and will likely start to accumulate lactate. If you run much slower than your overall race pace for part of the race, then you'll need to make up for this lapse by running faster than the most efficient pace for another portion of the race.

The optimal pacing strategy, then, is to run nearly even splits, taking into account the idiosyncrasies of the course you'll be running. However, your running economy will tend to decrease slightly during the race, meaning that your lactate threshold pace will decrease slightly as well. The result is that your optimal pace will be slightly slower during the latter stages of the marathon.

A more efficient pacing strategy is to think of the race in 2 halves (and conquer them separately), and allowing yourself to slow by 2% to 3% during the second half. Although in most cases you should stay with your pacing plan, occasionally the weather (high humidity and warm sun) or other circumstances may also affect your strategy. Sometime, I would also advice the runners to consider it as 10.5km X 4 runs as psychologically it is easier to conquer 10.5km X 4 than a full 42.195km at one go!

If you're running into a head wind (So far not very common in SCMS), there's a substantial advantage to running in a group of runners to block the wind. This may warrant running a little faster or slower than your planned pace. Even on a calm day, you may want to adjust your pace in order to run in a group. Although drafting behind other runners will give you a small energy advantage, most of the benefit of staying with a group is psychological. You don't have to set the pace, and you can relax and go along with the group.

Most runners find it mentally difficult to run alone for long stretches of the marathon. You can measure the tradeoff between having pacers and having to compromise your strategy by a simple rule of thumb: If you have to deviate from your goal pace by more than 8 to 10 seconds per km, it will be important to drop away from that pack.

That 8 to 10 seconds can be the difference in effort that could put you over the edge. If your breathing is uncomfortable and you can sense that you're working at a higher intensity than you can maintain until the finish, then relax and let the others go. You may find that the group will soon break up and that you'll once again have others to run with.

Therefore, if you are a 5:30 hour's runner, never follow a 5:00 hour's pacer team without a good and valid reason!

The First Half (21km)
Stay focused! It's easy to get carried away and run the first 10-15km too fast. A better approach is to run the first 10-15 km at, or a bit slower than, your goal pace.

Avoid the temptation to head out too fast. Once the first 10-15km is out of the way, settle into a good rhythm. Try to run fast but relaxed. Establishing a relaxed running style early in the race will go a long way toward helping you avoid tightening up so that you can maintain your goal pace to the finish.

It's important to drink right from the start rather than waiting until you're running low on energy or fluid. If you wait until you're tired and light-headed, it will be too late. Never skip any water station. Sip at all the water station if possible. The longer you can postpone dehydration and carbohydrate depletion, the longer you will be able to maintain your goal pace. Do not just drink pure water alone; try to mixed water with isotonic drink given. If you are taking power gel, do not consume power gel with pure isotonic drink but rather water. Do not and never try anything new last minute from your usual consumption.

Mentally, the first half is the time to cruise. Save your mental and emotional energy for the second half of the race. Just try to get the first half behind you at the correct pace without using any more mental energy than necessary.

For the 1st timer who may not have sufficient mileage to take on a full marathon, you may wish to adopt a jog-walk approach. For an example, you may jog 20-30min then follow by a 5-8min brisk walking, and repeat the work out. Never be a hero, if you need to walk, you do so!

On to 30-35 km mark (Facing the WALL)
You should be constantly monitoring your pace and checking your body over for warning signs or even reservoirs of available energy. Pay attention to your breathing.

From the halfway mark to 30-35km is the no man's land of the marathon. This is the moment where many runners will face the WALL! The real trick is to do all of this while staying relaxed. It's not necessarily easy, since racing is largely about pushing yourself through pain. Yet the experienced racer remains at peace and completely at ease. At this point, you are already fairly tired and still have a long way to go. This is where the mental discipline of training will help you to maintain a strong effort and a positive attitude. Keep a relax mind and heart.

It's easy to let your pace slip. Use your splits to know exactly how you're progressing. Concentrate and maintain your goal pace during these miles. Slowing during this portion of the marathon is often more a matter of not concentrating than of not being able to maintain the pace physically.

Focusing on your splits gives you an immediate goal to concentrate on. If you find yourself flagging, don't try to make up the lost seconds, just focus on your target pace to get back on track. Focusing on these incremental goals along the way prevents a large drift in your pace.

The only fuel for your brain is glucose (carbohydrate), and when you become carbohydrate-depleted, the amount of glucose reaching the brain starts to decrease. Taking in carbohydrate as often as possible during the second half of the race can help you maintain your mental focus.

Remember one more thing, stop keep on looking at the watch if this is your 1st marathon. Do not add stress to yourself for wanting to achieve Personal Best (PB) for the 1st maiden run, and since it is your maiden marathon, any timing is still a PB.


The final 5 km and 400m
At 37km mark, you've made it to the most rewarding stage of the marathon. Up to this point, every km required the patience to hold back. Now you're free to see what you've got. As you approach the last leg of the race, it's time for the kick.

During these final 5km you get to dig down and use up any energy you have left. This is what the marathon is all about. It's the stretch that poorly prepared marathoners fear and well-prepared marathoners relish.

The key from 37km to the finish is to push as hard as you can without having disaster strike in the form of a cramp or very tight muscles. You need to use your body's feedback to determine just how hard you can push. Gauge how much extra energy you have left for the final push. If you have good speed, you might pour it out for a last burst of speed and kick the final half mile. If your speed is not so good, you might bet on endurance and step up the pace for a longer distance. Always remember to listen to your body!

Your legs will probably be on the edge and will limit how fast you can go. You need to test the waters a bit and push to the limit of what your muscles will tolerate. It is a process of taking progressively greater risks as the finish line nears. At this point, the known compression tights may come in handle to prevent and minimize legs cramps.

You will know you have mastered the marathon if you can give it a little more effort and finish strong. That why many of the Fatbird senior runners would advice runners to start slower and end strongly!

When not to finish
Most of the time, you should try to finish even if you have disappointed your expectations. The marathon is a test of endurance. If you casually drop out, it will be easy to drop out again.

However, there are circumstances that are important to recognize when dropping out maybe a wise thing to do.
(1) If you are limping, then your running mechanics are off. You will aggravate your injury by continuing;
(2) If you have a specific pain that is increasing progressively during the race, then you are doing yourself harm and should stop;
(3) If you are light-headed and unable to concentrate, you should stop and seek help immediately if possible;
(4) If you are overcome by muscle cramps (if cannot recover), a torn muscle, or heat exhaustion, please stop!