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Running a half? Race day tips

Buy me a drink some time and I’ll tell you my tales as a marathon veteran. The nights training in the snow with a head torch… the black toenails… the grim need for Canestan cream and Imodium… hitting the wall. Oh yes, I’ve been there.

It wasn’t actually me doing the running of course. Despite years living within walking distance of the start of the London Marathon and always hankering after soaking in that amazing atmosphere while running to glory, I never actually did. My husband however has done the marathon five times and a heap of halves in London and in Sussex. So my bluffer’s guide comes entirely by proxy. Maybe it was his disintegrating toenails that put me off.

There was a hilarious three second online clip of him crossing the line at the Brighton Half the other year and silently swearing at himself when he checked his time. That was the year they accidentally laid the course out longer. Oh how all the runners laughed <cough>.

this is not him…

So, if you’re running one of the halves that are coming up in Brighton, Eastbourne  (3 March) Hastings (24 March) Paddock Wood (7 April) or elsewhere then I salute you. If you’re tackling one for the first time then check out these race day tips I’ve gleaned from Mr Muddy (and some spectator tips from myself). Warning: contains reference to nipple plasters….

Race day runners’ tips

You’ve put the work in training, now here’s how to help things go smoothly on the day itself…

  • Eat a normal breakfast about two hours before the start. You should have been carb loading for a few days but on the day itself you don’t need a big fry up – it takes too long to digest and will make you feel sluggish. Boost yourself with energy gel in the later stages of the race if you need to but only if you’ve practised with gels in training – otherwise they might upset you.
  • Don’t drink too much before the start or you’ll want to wee. Drink more than usual the day before to get your hydration up and avoid tea, coffee and alcohol. On the race day have water at breakfast then just a few sips before the start – there are drinks stations en route.
  • Practise beforehand running while drinking (water not booze!).
  • Don’t wear too many clothes, No matter how parky it seems when you’re standing around at the start you’ll get very hot very quickly [yep, I’ve had my family’s sweaty jackets and gloves thrown at me as they pass]. You can wait in a bin bag with a hole for your head to keep the chill off then rip it as you start (plenty of people do, honest).
  • Don’t go off too fast. If there’s a pacemaker with a sign for the time you’re aiming around try to keep them in sight.
  • If you’re after a specific time in the half, check your watch at 10 miles then add 30 minutes – that should be your absolute worse case scenario finish time.
  • Don’t chase the 65-year-old who overtakes you – they’ve probably been running all their lives – you won’t catch them.
  • If you’re a woman, wear a decent sports bra, if you’re man, you’ll need nipple plasters. Yep, seriously. Bleeding nipples is not a good look. Likewise, wear a sports top, not a run-of-the-mill cotton ‘T’ shirt which will chafe and get soaked in sweat.
  • Put your name on your shirt. People will cheer you on whether they know you or not and if you look like you’re struggling the crowd will really get behind you.
  • Not happy with your time? The Sussex halves are grouped close together so with minimal extra training, if you can get a place you can have another stab a few weeks later!

Spectator tips

  • Get well ahead on a long stretch where you and your runner have a good chance of seeing each other looming. At the bottom of a hill is ideal.
  • Take a light sign (you’ll be holding it a long time).
  • Look out for switchbacks on the course. At Brighton the traffic island roughly opposite the pier is a good spot – you should see your runner three times.
  • If you’re looking for your runner at different points look out for a landmark person near them the first time they pass, like the nearest pacemaker (they carry time signs) or someone in fancy dress. If they are aiming for a time you can work out in advance roughly where they should be at certain points.
  • If you’re spectating with children, get them to hand out jelly babies to give the runners a sugar boost. Fun runners will pause to grab them but for serious runners you’ll need to hold them out individually between thumb and forefinger.

London Marathon specific

OK, it’s not till April, but while we’re on the subject here are some London-specific spectator tips…

  • This is on an huge scale and you’ll be competing in a sea of signs and voices, it’s hard for your runner to spot you and hear you holler even if you see them. Consider a distinctive sound – I once, to my other half’s embarrassment, took a squeaky dog toy.
  • Stand on a lonely stretch with few spectators. This is where your runner really needs a lift and you’ll have a much greater chance of spotting each other. Docklands is a good place. I’ve stood by Crossharbour DLR station a couple of times.
  • If you’re moving round the course check which tube stations will be closed and which will be busiest to allow you to get to a point before your runner does. Tell them where you’re hoping to be.
  • Afterwards, meet your runner at the trees by the Mall under the letter of their surname.
  • Tell them walking downstairs backwards helps!

Got a tip of your own? Please share.

Good luck all!

Find more ideas here

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