4 Strategies from a Pro to Run Your Best Marathon

Nick Arciniaga
by Nick Arciniaga
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4 Strategies from a Pro to Run Your Best Marathon

Marathons are one of the most challenging road races to run well. Training before race day is time consuming and can be physically and mentally exhausting. For more experienced runners, it is even more challenging when aiming to run a personal best. Your day-to-day training is the most important step to getting your fitness where you want it on race day. However, it is also very important to have a proper strategy and mental edge going into the race. Here is some advice on how you can improve upon your previous marathons:

1. Manage your energy.
At the start of your race, make sure your first few miles are used to gradually warm up into your goal pace. There is no point in going out too fast to “put time in the bank” because you will likely lose more time than you gain by starting off too hard. Throughout the race, continually evaluate your body; check if your current pace is comfortably hard, and maintain a good balance of taking in fuel and fluids to replenish what your body is using during the race. Proper pacing and fuel intake are some things you should practice during your training.

2. Create an effective, flexible plan.

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Before you toe the start line, you should have an idea of what your goal pace should be. I recommend running as even a pace as possible throughout the entire race. This will give you the best chance to finish as well as you started.

You will want to keep an eye on the weather conditions, as warm temperatures, wind, rain, humidity and even cold can affect how quickly and efficiently your body burns fuel. If you know how your body responds to different types of weather, be willing to adjust your plan to be able to run your best on race day. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and slow your pace.

3. Break the race into segments.

You can separate the long, agonizing miles into smaller portions to help you get through the race more easily. A lot of people say the marathon has two halves—the first 20 miles and then the last 6.2. If you break the race up this way, you can focus on it as a 20-mile tempo run, followed by a 10K race. This will allow you to more easily let your mind convince your body to keep pushing during the race.

You can also break it up into 5K, 10K or half-marathon segments, where you concentrate on running even splits during each portion and try to pick up the pace on the final 5K, 10K or last few miles of your “second half marathon.”

One of my favorite ways to separate the race is to break it up into three parts. The first part is the first half marathon—during this segment I focus only on hitting my pace and running comfortably. The next section is the next 10 miles, from mile 13 to mile 23. During this segment, I take some chances and see if my body can handle a slight increase in pace, which would only be a few seconds faster per mile. The final section is from mile 23 to the finish—during this segment I am usually just surviving, but if things are going well, then this would be the point to let loose and put everything you have toward the finish.

4. Choose to race with confidence.

Your goals, race strategies and even how you feel are contingent on you being confident in your abilities. A positive attitude goes a long way in the marathon, whereas a negative or defeated attitude will almost always result in a disappointing performance.

Here’s the best way to go into the race with positivity: Remember all of the good workouts and training runs you’ve accomplished during your training. Give yourself a mantra to repeat throughout the race, and use it to pick yourself up during the event. You can also replace negative self-talk with your race mantra. This positive statement can be anything you find uplifting—a quote that you like or something simple such as “quick feet, drive your arms,” to remind yourself to maintain good form.

All photos by Paul Shirley.

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About the Author

Nick Arciniaga
Nick Arciniaga

Nick Arciniaga is a professional marathoner for Under Armour and Team Run Flagstaff. Nick trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., where he is also an assistant coach for Team Run Flagstaff, a community running club. He lives with his wife, Carolyn, and their dog, Luna. Keep up with Nick on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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