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Home >> Blog >> Axel >> Who needs a race strategy?

Who needs a race strategy?

  • Ultra Marathon
  • Half Marathon
  • Training

There are two general ways of approaching a race:

  1. You simply line up at the start and run, or 
  2. you have a strategy and (try to) follow it during the race.

Lining up and running is great if your main goal is to enjoy the race instead of breaking a record or beating a previous time.  In addition, your club mates can provide you with a lot of fun during a race, while it's also a great opportunity to look at the scenery, say "thank you" to supporters, marshals and water table teams, or simply walk for a while if the going gets tough. 

But there comes a time when everyone will want - or need - a race strategy...

Who needs to have a strategy?

If you want to work on your time, beat your previous result or even achieve your "sub X" goal - like running a sub-2 half marathon, a sub-3:45 marathon or a sub-5 hour Old Mutual Two Oceans Ultra - just lining up without a plan could jeopardize your training efforts.

Breaking a sub-X target is not always a walk in the park.  In my own experience, it has always been an effort to reach a new PB, and this is where a race strategy become important (and has worked for me). 

I had a strategy in place when I targeted a sub-5 Two Oceans Ultra in 2011, when I paced the sub-6 bus in 2012 AND when I ran with Hein Wagner in 2013. 

Planning is important, and it doesn't have to be complicated. 

Let me give you two examples:

Sub-6 Two Oceans Bus Strategy (2012)

For the sub-6 Two Oceans bus my strategy worked like this:

A 5:50 finish means a 6:15 min/km average pace. But you can't run such an average pace if you need to cross Chappies and Constantia Nek. We therefore needed to run a bit faster during the first half in order to save some energy and run slower on the hills.

Although it would have been doable for me to run up Constantia Nek (I did my sub-5 Two Oceans the year before), I knew that my bus passengers would not. My plan therefore was build on the idea to WALK up Constantia Nek. I mean all the way up!

I calculated a 9 min/km pace for this uphill section and since it's more than 2 km long, we needed to make up some time at the start of the race to earn that relaxed hill walk. 

I also knew that after 46km of running, my bus would not be able to run the last bit of the race at the required 6:15 min/km, so I needed to make even more time available for a safe sub-6 finish.

So I developed the strategy based on the expected finish time, coupled with and the reduced energy levels for the last 14 km after the marathon mark. 

With this in mind it was easy to calculate the strategy for the first 28km before Chappies in which we ran a little bit faster than 6:00 min/km. In theory we would all be fresh, the elevation would be easy and the heat would not be an issue that early on in the race.  Of course, 2012 saw not heat, but rather a day of never ending rain...  one of the things you can't plan for when you work on your strategy.

Sticking to the strategy gave me and my bus the confidence to really enjoy the walk up at Constantia Nek. Taking the time and walk up this hill for about 20 minutes  not only reduced the pain, but also provided an opportunity to actively recover. 

If you want to go for a sub-6 Two Oceans Ultra, please feel free to follow this strategy. You find more details about this 2012 Sub 6 h Two Oceans bus on my blog...

Sub-5 Two Oceans Strategy (2011)

For my sub-5 race in 2011 the strategy utilised the same basic idea... (or, should I say that the sub-6 strategy was as a result of my successful strategy in 2011).

The differences: I had to run a 5:15 min/km on average.

I therefore planned to run 5:00 min/km for the first half, run up slowly Chappies and use a run/walk strategy up Constantia Nek.

Up to the marathon mark everything worked perfectly and I crossed the marathon line in 3:37.  It is a fantastic feeling when you are ahead of your schedule in a race. It releases a lot of pressure and avoids the challenges that come with climbing Constantia Nek. 

The following picture illustrates my pace in 2011, with the green fields indicating where I ran faster than the planned 5:15 min/km:


Needless to say, I will run the Two Oceans Ultra again this year, using the same sub-5 strategy I implemented in 2011.

Planning a strategy upfront is well worth doing, no matter if you run a half, standard or ultra marathon. It is vital if you want to run a PB.

Of course you can break a PB also by simply running as fast as you can, but your chance of succeeding is higher if you know when to take it slow and when to race hard. 

But, no matter if you go for a PB or run for the first time:  always remember that it's supposed to be fun (since we are not earning money from it) and I encourage you to support your fellow runners on the route by talking to them, especially when you sense that someone is having a hard time.

Enjoy your training and your race,


You can follow my training and race preparations on my Ultra Marathon Man blog (http://ultra-marathon-man.com/en)