One of the biggest soft skills you take away from running is the discipline of pacing. If you can master this one skill, whether it be for running or for life, you’ll start performing at your optimal best.

Most runners complain that the last half or quarter of a race is difficult, so much so that sometimes they are crawling at the very end. But that’s because they never train for that portion of the race. Anyone can sprint in the beginning, it is the smile at the finish line that separates the novices from the smart runners. Train smart and you will be able to get the best results.

New runners as well as most seasoned ones believe that they need to run non-stop if it is to count as running. It’s almost as if stopping or taking walk breaks will be beneath their dignity. Yet, most new runners, and even some experienced runners, take longer to cover half (21.1km) and or full (42.195km) marathon distances when they attempt to run non-stop. They are slow in the second half.

To cover the distance more comfortably, and in less time, you need to take regular breaks every few kilometres.

Here are tips that will help you pace yourself better and finish with a smile:

■Start your race slower than you think you can. Slow down by 30 seconds for the first 1-2km. Get a sense of the surroundings and the atmosphere around you. Let others run their race, you focus on yours. Do not get into a rat race. These 30 seconds will pay you dividends at the end.

■ After a kilometre or two, the crowd would have almost dispersed. You will have more room to run at your pace and to get into your zone based on how you are feeling at the time. If it feels you can speed up by 15-30 seconds per kilometre, gradually increase your pace.

■ At the first water station, which will be at 2km, remind yourself that you need to be in control of your breathing. If you are not, slow down just a little for the next 15-30 seconds and focus on slow inhaling and exhaling.

■ Repeat this check at every water or aid station. If you think about your breathing only when you feel tired, it basically means that it is too late and your race is messed up. Check your breathing before you get to that stage.

■ When you get to the half-distance mark, you should aim to be as fresh as possible. If you’ve done that, you’ve done well. Check your breathing and pace. If you feel breathless, slow down just a bit. Slowing down by 5-10 seconds per kilometre should be good enough to take care of it.

■ At three-quarters of the distance, see how you are feeling. If you are feeling good, increase your pace by 10-15 seconds per kilometre and look for a strong finish. If not, slow down by 10-15 seconds. If you are feeling just about all right, don’t change your pace. In any case, the plan should be to finish with a smile on your face.

As for the walking-running schedule this week, warm up with a gentle 3-minute walk. Follow this up with a 6-minute run alternating with a 30-second walk. Repeat four-six times. Do this four-six days a week.

This is the sixth in an eight-part series to motivate people to take up running in the correct way. Click here for the complete series.

Rajat Chauhan is a sports exercise and musculoskeletal medicine physician and race director of La Ultra—The High held in Ladakh. He has authored The Pain Handbook: A Non-Surgical Way To Managing Back, Neck And Knee Pain.

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