The 3M Half Marathon & Relay is one of the premier races on the Austin calendar, attracting a deep, elite field from around the country, and is a favorite for Central Texas runners looking to set personal bests for the 13.1-mile distance.

The event Sunday morning features a fast downhill course starting on Stonelake Boulevard by Gateway Shopping Center and finishing on Trinity Street at Waterloo Park.

"3M is fun because of its point-to-point downhill course, and you can really fly. I tell my runners to maintain turnover, and to keep a steady rhythm on the downhill sections," says John Schrup, a coach with Rogue Training Systems.

"The course lends itself to running negative splits (a faster second half). You really don't have to be that conservative with your pace."

Taking the race strategy a step further, Derick Williamson, an Austin-based distance coach with Durata Training, offers a detailed plan from pre-race through the finish.

Pre-race: Williamson recommends that athletes be well-hydrated before they get to the starting line of any race. "Pay close attention to hydration status in the two to three days leading into the race," he says. "It's too late to start thinking about hydration on race morning.

"The 3M Half Marathon has a history of being relatively cool, and provided that you are well-hydrated going into the race, then hydration during the event is generally not as critical as it is when we're racing in the spring and summer."

Proper attire: Every runner has a comfort threshold when competing in cold conditions. Williamson, who has a background in exercise physiology, says runners should dress like it's 15 degrees warmer than it really is.

"If it's 40 degrees at the start, dress as if it's 55 degrees, because you'll warm up that much once the race is underway," he says. "If it's really cold on race morning, it's always a good idea to have some old sweats, or warm-ups that you can keep on as long as possible before having to line up for the race."

Patience: It's very easy to get sucked into going out too fast, so take it easy on mile one, advises Williamson. "This race really rewards someone that can be patient and wait until mile four on Spicewood Springs Road to turn it on," he says.

Pacing: Run the first mile about five to 10 seconds slower than your goal race pace. At mile two begin to speed up to your goal pace. Williamson suggests runners gauge how they are feeling at mile four. "If you feel strong, this is a good place to see if you can bring the pace down by five seconds per mile," he says.

"At that point, simply focus on being consistent and taking it one mile at a time. Miles six through nine, especially the stretch on Burnet Road, have some nice, steady downhill to help you along."

Finishing: The last 5K is where you really take stock of how you are feeling. "If you've paced yourself well and are feeling strong, this is where you take a risk and really go for it," says Williamson, who has a 1:06:50 career best for the half-marathon distance.

"Start to drive the pace harder and harder," Williamson says. "Keep any uphills controlled but push the down-hills and flats."

Heading into the home stretch on San Jacinto Boulevard and on to Trinity Street, it's important to maintain focus and remind yourself of what you're trying to accomplish. The last mile will only last a matter of minutes, but your half-marathon personal best is yours to keep.

Upcoming

Sunday

• 3M Half Marathon & Relay, 6:45 a.m., Stonelake Boulevard at Gateway Shopping Center. This event is sold out. See www.3mhalfmarathon.com .

Looking Ahead

• LIVESTRONG Austin Marathon and Half Marathon, Feb. 20. Registration open at www.youraustinmarathon.com .

• Moe's Better Half Marathon, March 6. Registration open at www.sanmarcosrunners.org .

• Statesman Capitol 10,000, March 27. Registration open at www.statesman.com/cap10k .