Running a half marathon is no mean feat. You would have been training hard for it, and have probably been following a schedule for a few months. Now, with race day approaching, you can only make the last few adjustments to ensure you finish your first 21.1km with a good timing, and without injury. Since many questions must be running through your head, we asked our experts—Bengaluru-based running mentor Ashok Nath, Delhi-based running coach Ravinder Singh, and Daniel Vaz, coach at Nike Running Club, Mumbai—to respond to some frequently asked questions.

Nath, who has helped improve the running experience for hundreds of runners, talks about the pacing strategy for new runners. Singh has trained over 500 runners in the last four years and organized more than 30 races over the last two years. He talks about the importance of eating right before a race. Vaz, who has been training runners for more than nine years and is currently helping about 600 runners prepare for their next race, explains the importance of rest and recovery after a run.

This cheat sheet ahead of the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) scheduled for 19 November should help you perform better.

I always feel out of breath after I have run a bit. Is something wrong? Or is this normal?

It all depends on the intensity at which you start out. One has to remember that the blood vessels are constricted before you begin a run and it’s only when you warm up that they tend to dilate and allow smoother blood flow. It is this constriction that causes the heart to work harder and, in turn, causes your breathing rate to increase, leaving you breathless, says Vaz. Simply put, it just means that you need to spend more time warming up, or make a transition from a walk to a jog to a run, to avoid getting breathless.

How do I prevent getting a side stitch when I run?

Singh says the side stitch is caused by disturbances in breathing pattern, running too fast out of limits or running after a heavy meal. If you get a stitch, slow down, and then run easy before trying to speed up again.

What sort of pacing strategy should I be looking for?

A steady effort, not necessarily pace, throughout the race is the right approach for novice runners, says Nath. Accept that with distance, or time on the feet, muscles will tire and some level of dehydration will set in, both leading to an increase in heart rate. In such a situation, you will need to make a greater effort to run faster, and this will be hard given your condition. Simply maintain the level of effort, while allowing for some decrease in pace.

Should I start fast or finish faster? Or is it better to keep a steady pace throughout?

Nath says that starting fast burns your glycogen levels, and if you aren’t well trained, you will very soon start slowing down and have a miserable race. On the other hand, finishing faster would imply you took it too easy, and so had sufficient energy to run faster, with the result that your overall time will be below expectations.

Accept that you will slow down with distance but aim to minimize this. So run steady, always monitoring your breathing to feel it’s under control with regular fuelling, and try to hold the pace till the end.

How often do I need to drink water/ energy drinks during the race?

This depends on the weather conditions, says Vaz. For the ADHM, since it is likely to be cooler, the sweat rate will be low. A good guideline is to drink about 150-200ml every 20 minutes.

Novice runners would be smart to alternate between initially “sipping" water and energy drinks till about 13km, and then drinking more till the end, adds Nath.

Is it a good idea to eat in the morning before the race? What should I eat and when? What about the day before?

Vaz advises runners to eat before the race provided the snack is at least 90 minutes before the start. Options could range from banana, peanut butter sandwich, granola bar and dried fruit to toast with marmalade, poha, etc.

A day before the race, it is important to stay hydrated all day long by drinking water and alternating it with electrolytes. Also, eat meals that are high in complex carbohydrates. Eat an early dinner that is easily digested and stop drinking fluids by 8pm so that you do not have to wake up too often to use the washroom at night.

I have already done one long run (18-19km). What should I do in the week before the race?

The objective for the final taper week is to “stay sharp, get refreshed". Hold on to the intensity but cut down on the distance in your training runs while getting refreshed through slightly higher carbohydrate intake and more sleep. It is important not to do any heavy weights, and avoid street food or new foods, advises Nath.

What should I do the week after the race? How long should my rest and recovery be?

The week after the race is for rest and recovery (R&R). To minimize the natural stiffness and soreness that sets in (DOMS – delayed onset of muscle soreness), it’s best to maintain a minimal level of light activity like relaxed walking, swimming, cycling, or even a recovery jog, says Nath.

According to Vaz, as soon as you finish the race, you should drink fluids and replenish what your body tissues have lost. Also, eat a carbohydrate and protein meal within 2 hours of finishing. This time window allows for the restocking of depleted glycogen while enabling the amino acids from your protein meal to repair tissues that have undergone micro-trauma.

The period of R&R will vary but, broadly, you can return to routine workouts after one-two weeks.

Last-minute tips?

Several small points but, if these are neglected, it can hurt your race. So try to sleep more on 17 November night, and avoid any unnecessary activity or travel in the week leading up to your race, says Nath. Singh says you shouldn’t wear new clothes, and should apply Vaseline to any areas prone to chaffing. Drink 500ml water on waking up on race morning. Drink another 150ml at the start venue after using the washroom, advises Vaz.

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