Dr Ross Tucker on how to get the best Half Marathon result
Hi Half Marathon runners! Prof Ross Tucker here, hoping that you’re enjoying a healthy and effective taper week before your big race on Saturday! Of all the things you can and should do to give you the best possible result on race day, getting your pacing strategy right is perhaps the most important. You have to manage how you “spend” your effort over the 21.1km, given that you tackle two challenging hills and their descents.
I have prepared the pacing targets for the race, and the table below shows you what time you should be aiming for at various points along the route in order to hit your ultimate goal. The targets are based on what scientific research has shown to be the most effective strategy, namely even effort throughout. A lot of runners make the error of going off too hard, trying to “bank time” for later. This is a mistake - you should rather be conservative early, and aim to finish strong.
These split targets will help you do just that. Good luck, and please don’t hesitate to ask any questions! Look out also for the adidas pace-setters on race day - they’ll be carrying flags for these target times, to help make your job even easier!
Have a great race,
The half marathon route throws two major challenges at you. The first comes within the first 4km, in the shape of Edinburgh Drive. It starts gradually, then builds and the steepest section is between 2 and 3km. You’ll run it in the dark, on fresh legs, and be surrounded by so many people that you’re almost carried along by the tide.
That has upsides and downsides - the upside is that you barely even notice the climb. It’s steep, but your adrenaline and the collective efforts of 15,000 people help you up it without feeling like you’re climbing. The downside is that it’s easy to be sucked into running too fast. So you need discipline here, and a clear idea of what you’re capable of. If you hit the top, just before 4km, even a few minutes too fast, your entire race plan is affected. So be careful!
The next key phase is the descent. It’s easy again to be carried away - it’s dark, and so hard to judge pace, and the desire to make up for lost time is very compelling. So again, discipline is key. You will speed up, but don’t go too fast. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the 3km from 4km to 7km are the most important in the race - if you go too hard, you pound your legs, and they’ll be weak by the time you need them on Southern Cross Drive. Patience will be rewarded, so hold back as much as possible. You should feel very easy from 5km to 7km, once you’ve recovered from the climb.
From 7km to just after 10km is a time to gather yourself, find rhythm and get ready for the next hill. This is a relatively flat section, so you run it more or less at your overall race pace goal.
Southern Cross Drive starts just after 10km, and is 2.5km long. The first part, up to 11km, is not too bad, so ease into the hill. The challenge starts only after 11km. From 11km to 12km, it builds, and the first part is actually quite flat. But as you get under the tree cover, it kicks up, and that’s where you have to knuckle down, focus on relaxing and finding a consistent rhythm because for the next ten minutes, you’re working hard and climbing.
12km to 13km is the slowest of the race, in my experience. A difficult kilometre, but hang in there because you get a good descent to recover. Aim to hit 13km at about your overall race pace goal.
13km to 18km are “bumpy”, so the challenge here is rhythm. The camber going past Cecilia Forest doesn’t help, but the great crowd support should be a boost. Here, the key is to focus internally on how you feel. Forget the watch, forget the next kilometre. Keep your thoughts in the “NOW”, and on what your body is doing. There are little steep pulls, and little drops, but they’re very short, so they do throw your concentration and rhythm. use this period to consolidate, ahead of the last push.
Once you get to the Top Gate of Kirstenbosch, there are almost 3km of descending, some of it very steep. If you have good legs and feel strong, now’s the time to cash in. Not too aggressive, mind you, because there’s one final sneaky challenge waiting, but you can start to open up here. This 5km section from 13km to 18km is the fastest of the race. Enjoy the vibe at Kirstenbosch while you fly by the crowds.
The final 3km are surprisingly tough - exposed to sun, and also certainly not flat. As soon as you turn off Rhodes Drive, you climb up what is called Chet’s hill, and if you’re on the limit there, it will hurt. That’s why no matter how good you feel at 15km, you need to keep some ammunition on standby. The final 2km are easier, except for the fatigue in your legs and the heat (if it’s sunny), but you’re close enough now that it’s just a big push, the finish line is in sight.
Overall, the key early on is patience, especially on the descent of Edinburgh drive from 3 km to about 7km. Then focus on Southern Cross, relax on the descents, and leave yourself with enough to push hard over the final 6km.