With a marathon being such a long race, having a proper strategy can be quite effective at getting you close to the top steps of the podium. However, don't expect a race strategy to be more effective than training and race preparation. This is just another area to fine tune your preparation for your race.
The first step is to know every inch of your course. If you are on a new course you haven't been able to preview, then study the profile and focus on a few major areas to get familiar with and start there. I highly recommend some sort of preview of the course even if you can only see the final km, it's better than going in blind. A common mistake is to use the time you have to simply preview the start. In a marathon, winning the hole shot and the first 5km are not really that important. Ideally try and ski the last 10km to the finish as this can be where the race generally unfolds, whether you are fighting for the top spots, trying to be the first in your group, or holding off a charging group. On race morning check out the start set up and just look to stay out of trouble.
Next is to figure out your own strengths and weakness and apply them to the course. For example, if you're a better skier on the flats, don't kill yourself going up hills, take a little off so you can charge on the flats where you are strongest. Another common mistake is to charge on areas you're weaker and rest on areas of the course where you are stronger. However, this shouldn't be mistaken as to fall off the group going up a hill but you should find your own rhythm keep the group close and once you get over the top, pick up the effort. By skiing your own rhythm you will conserve all kinds of energy and at the end of the day that is pretty much what marathon racing is all about. Conserving energy and skiing efficiently so you can pick up the pace in the end or continue a consistent high pace.
Finally, understand your competition. It is a valuable tool to understand the racers in your groups strengths and weakness. Is there a sprinter in your group, is there a climber, is there a breakaway threat? If you don't know you may end of chasing down the wrong breakaways, wasting energy trying to hang with the best climber in the group, or dragging a sprinter to the line. This is also where your race strategy needs to be flexible and adapt to the race. Knowing that there is a racer that will try and break you on the hills, but if you can just handle the surges and stay close you can stay with them, or be aware that there is a sprinter in your group and you don't want to take the last 5km easy, because that's exactly what they want.
These are just the basics of developing a good marathon race strategy but if you use this tool you will be amazed at the success you will have.
Chris Cook, Steinbock Racing