Sound Racing Strategies For 10K, Half-Marathons

  • By Roy Stevenson
  • Published Jul. 12, 2013
Over the first few miles of your half-marathon, it's best to run slower than your target race pace. Photo:

The Middle Of The Race

Approaching the middle of the race you should still be running within your capabilities. Now gradually start picking up your tempo. Do not pick your pace up in a short fast burst — it should be done over a half mile or more. Speed up almost imperceptibly.

Altering Your Strategy Midrace

Most of the time you should attempt to stay with your pacing plan, but occasionally the weather or how you are feeling will merit altering your pace. Do so without regret.


Evidence strongly supports the tactic of drafting behind other runners. Research shows the energy required to overcome air resistance increases exponentially with running velocity and headwind. One study found that running into a 10 mph headwind adds eight percent to energy costs.

But by drafting behind another runner you reduce wind resistance by 90 percent, and decrease your energy expenditure by 7 percent, so it’s almost like you’re running without a headwind.

Shelter about one meter behind other runners into a headwind. Conversely, when the wind is behind you, come out wide from the pack, set your sails, and pick up your pace.

Running with a group can help tremendously. Sharing the goal and motivating each other reduces your perceived effort. Just make sure the pack is running at your pace.

RELATED: Developing A Better Sense Of Pace

Cutting Corners

Accurate courses are measured over the shortest possible route open to runners. So make sure you cut the corners — this is not cheating. Running down the center of the road adds 1-2 seconds to your finish time and extends the distance you run.

The Last Third Of The Race

No matter how well you pace yourself, you’ll be feeling discomfort by this stage. Concentrate on relaxing and holding your form. Focus on maintaining your pace, breathing, temperature, and rhythm, and adjust pace up or down as you feel. Steidl advises runners in a 10K, “If you still feel good at mile 4, then pick it up.”

Towards the end, runners tend to slump forward, causing their stride to shorten, slowing their pace. A good core-strengthening program eliminates this slump. Greg Crowther, an elite ultra marathoner, maintains motivation in this way: “In the second half of the race I tend to focus on trying to catch the people in front of me, which seems to motivate me more effectively than the splits themselves at that point.”

Your Final Sprint

The practice of sprinting the final few hundred meters should be used with caution, if at all. You’ve just thrashed yourself over 10K or 13.1 miles, and your body is screaming out to stop. Perhaps getting your heart rate up to maximum, accumulating excess lactate, and the other stressors that zap your tired body here might not be worth those few seconds you’ve shaved off your time.

These then, are the basic strategies used in most 10K and half-marathon races. It’s clear what the most effective tactics are, based on research and much personal experience. Maybe it’s time for you to evaluate your personal racing tactics and try something new?


About The Author:

Roy Stevenson has a master’s degree in coaching and exercise physiology from Ohio University. He has competed in New Zealand championships on the track, road and cross-country a long time ago, somewhere around the time Moses came down from the mountain. He’s coached hundreds of runners and his articles on running have been published in more than 30 regional, national and international magazines.

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