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Q&A: How Can I Run Stronger Later in the Race?

What can I do to “hold back” early in the race so that I can feel stronger later in the race?

It’s race day. You’re excited. You’re nervous. You’ve probably gone to the bathroom more times this morning than you usually do all day. This happens and is absolutely normal. Your body is revved up, and when the gun goes off, it can be tough to rein in all the excitement and nerves. This may lead to a super-fast first few miles, but a total crash in the back half of the race.

So, how can you ensure you’re sprinting through the finish line? Here are some tips:

  1. During training, add a little kick to your final mile(s).  If you have a five-mile run, try picking up the pace slightly for the last mile. If you have a 16-miler, try kicking it up for the last three or four miles. For really short run days, toss in a sprint for the last 200 to 400 yards. Finishing a training run at a faster pace teaches your body to expect it come race day.
  2. Don’t jackrabbit! You’re bound to get stuck behind someone whose pace is a little slower than yours. Sure, pass if you’re feeling it, but avoid doing so by running in zigzags (i.e. jackrabbiting), which can potentially add miles to your race.
  3. Run based on effort, not split times. On a scale of one to 10 (1 being a very easy effort, 10 being very hard), think about how much effort you exert on those long-run days, and then find that effort on race day. Staying between five and seven is ideal.
  4. If you’ve bonked in previous races, test your metabolic efficiency. This test measures total calories used at different paces and the percentage coming from carbs or fat, allowing you to adjust your training and diet to be more fuel-efficient. Testing can cost between $150 and $250 and should be done by a specialist who can interpret the results. From a sport science and nutrition perspective, it may be the best money you spend.
  5. The first time I ran the New York City Marathon, what I remember most was that I was pretty much alone at the starting line. As it turns out, I had missed the start while waiting in the porta-potty line—I’m still unsure how all the thousands of racers disappeared so fast. My ill-timed bathroom visit actually saved me, though, because I didn’t get sucked into everyone else’s panic-start-of-the-race pace. By the time I caught up to the masses, I had hit my stride and I cruised through to the end. All of this is to say: If you’re super nervous, let the crowd go ahead, then start at your pace.

Happy running!


Tiffany Chag

Tiffany Chag, MS, RD, CSCS, is a Performance Coach at Hospital for Special Surgery. She is also a registered dietician/nutritionist and holds a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition from Teachers College, Columbia University. A lifelong athlete who played Division 1 soccer, Tiffany loves putting her body to the test and has completed several marathons and triathlons.

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