Day 7: Planning for Success

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Who is racing this weekend? Who is going long and how long? Remember that “long” is relative and your weekend run should be a little longer than your weekday runs. Add 1-2 miles to make it your “long run” and unless your racing…it should be “long slow distance”!

I wanted to talk briefly about planning for race day. A lot of times our “plan” for race day is to finish upright. That’s a great plan…unless you’ve trained hard and have a specific time goal in mind… then you need a more focused plan to reach your goal.

A race plan should keep you focused on the right concepts at the right points in the race. Paces, place, and tactics should be a part of the process, but the core of a race plan should be a very short list of concepts, feelings, or mental states to focus on.

A good starting point is to think about focus words. For example: Relax, Smooth, Strong, Kick. Simple “focus words” like this direct your attention where it needs to be at the appropriate time during the race.

The Start – The key to avoid being overwhelmed in a race is to take things one step at a time and your focus should be solely on the task in front of you. Directly in front of you, meaning, at the beginning of a race you should only be thinking about the beginning of the race. Don’t stress over the later, harder points. So in a half marathon, you should first be thinking about the first 3 miles. The “relax” part. Go into a race too keyed up and worried about the end means you will probably go out too fast and burn out too quickly.

A race, when properly paced, will feel comfortable for about the first half of the distance. So the purpose of the first quarter, third, or half of your race plan should be to get you through this portion as efficiently as possible.

Fatigue starts to set in around halfway through your race. This is where you really want to focus on your plan. As you go into that “fatigue” stage, think “smooth”. Remembering your trigger words, you can maintain a high level of efficiency further into a fatigued state. Pain and suffering, though an inevitable and necessary part of running an excellent race, are also a matter of perspective. By choosing not to focus on the mounting fatigue, you can sustain an efficient running style (and conserve energy) for longer.

Grouping the entire race into first half/second half plus a kick doesn’t adequately address the difference in fatigue you feel in the late beginning or middle part of your race. It’s important to understand that your available energy and focus in the final portion of your race is strongly dependent on your mental and physical state leading up to it.  Running hard or aggressively in the first portion of the race will sap energy from the end of a race: both the “long drive” after halfway and the kick.  Hence the importance of emphasizing efficiency, relaxation, and conservation of energy and running momentum in the first half to two-thirds of the race.

As an exercise, let’s look at a list of potential focus words.

  • Relax
  • Cruise
  • Calm
  • Drive
  • Kick
  • Hard
  • Focus
  • Easy
  • Smooth
  • Loose (as in “stay loose”)
  • Efficient
  • Sprint
  • Rhythm
  • Power
  • Strong
  • Toes (as in “up on your toes” i.e. sprinting)

Each of these words bring a different feeling or mental attitude, and you can probably see how repeating one of them over and over in a race, like a mantra, would affect your attitude and mental outlook.  When you survey the range of feelings and attitudes evoked by these words, you can also understand how different focus words would be appropriate for different parts in a race. What words speak to you? Which ones can you incorporate into your race to keep you calm and strong?

The Kick – The kick at the end of the race deserves special attention, since it should always be part of your race plan.  A lot of runners only find themselves able to muster a kick when they have another runner trying to best them in the final stretch of a race.  Go ahead and accept that you will always, no matter the circumstances, sprint as fast as you can in the final few hundred meters of a race.

Follow the Plan – Do not obsess over your race plan or visual your race a dozen times over.  Sketch out your race plan the night before the race.  Look over it once before the race, perhaps right before you go warm up, to make sure you’ve got it right.  Then run the race once—in real life—and be done with it.  Regardless of whether the race goes well or poorly, learn something afterwards and then move on.

Know that making and executing a race plan is only one part of having a great race.  Even with a perfect race plan, you’re not going to have the best race of your life every time you lace up your racing shoes.  Your fitness, your health, the weather, how the race unfolds, and any number of other variables will affect your performance too.  A good race plan only enables you to showcase your fitness level—it’s not a magic mental trick to conjure up fitness or make up for a lack of training.

Pacing Plan – You have to be in a good mental state when you start your race, but you also need to have a pacing plan. Today we’re going to talk about the half marathon distance, but EVERY race from a 5K to a 10K, to a half and full marathon should be planned out according to pace.

The half marathon is raced below 10K pace, about 15 to 30 seconds slower per mile than 10K pace. On a scale of 1 to 10, the half marathon is raced around a 7. You probably know I believe that holding back at the start of a half marathon is a smart strategy; it’s very easy to go out too fast. So I’m going to talk about a “negative split” pacing plan.

When you’re planning your pacing strategy, calculate the average minute/mile “goal pace” for your race, then start up to 10 to 15 seconds per mile slower than goal pace for up to the first 3 miles of the race. Gradually ease into goal pace for the next 7 miles or so. At mile 10, slowly increase to faster than goal pace for the final 3 miles of the race.

Fuel Plan – If not done properly, fueling and hydrating can have a negative impact on the outcome of a half marathon. Aim for 150 to 200 calories per hour. You’ll have to figure out in training the exact number of calories you need.

These calories can come through a combination of drink—water and/or sports drink—and food including gels, bars and chews. Trial and error during training will help nail down a hydration/nutrition strategy that works best. Once you know what works, stick to it on race day. Many athletes get so caught up in the excitement of the race they neglect their food and water intake.

Final note:  “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” The key to racing well is to be prepared both physically and mentally. Have a plan, and stick to it as best you can.

If you’re racing this weekend, I would love to see your plan! Write it down or type it up, then send me a copy by PM. Let’s chat about how to make the plan work for you so you can turn your “wish” into a reality on race day!

That was a lot…thanks for reading! I hope it sinks in with everyone…no matter what distance you are training for. Remember that every race, from a 5K to a marathon, to an ultra marathon, needs a race plan to be successful!

Now on to our Day 7 exercises. 🙂

Day 7 exercises: 2 sets of 10 – Arms & Core

****Click here for how to videos****

  • Lunge Stance + Single Arm Press
  • Kettle Ball / Dumbbell Swing
  • Plank Ups
  • Tricep Dips


  • Ab Challenge – 20 Crunches, 20 Dead Bugs, 20 Heel Touches
  • Jump Rope – 200
  • Burpees – 10

Bonus: #NoJunkFoodChallenge – As we lead into the weekend on Friday, it is important to think about our goals and where we want to be health and weight wise. A lot of us tend to falter on the weekends, so today we are going to kick off the weekend right with our #NoJunkFoodChallenge! Who’s in? 


We have an exciting weekend coming up with lots of racing, long runs and fun time with family. Every weekend, you should have a goal. Whether it’s a small stepping stone goal, like a long run, or a big race goal…plan now how you will make it happen because without a plan…your goal is just a wish!

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