Let's Talk Race Strategy
First and foremost, you must have a plan for YOUR race. You must do the appropriate training for realistic results. And, “if you want to run fast, you have to run (train) fast”. Eschewing times, train to run with people who train at your racing pace.
That being said, part of your race strategy must happen before the race. You need to set three goals: 1- best case scenario (will only happen if the stars align), 2- probable (you have confidence in achieving) and 3- “I can live with it” (things don’t go exactly as planned). You must also accept that the wheels may fall off the bus completely and then the race is considered a “learning experience”.
On race day, don’t overlook a good warm-up that entails elevating your heart rate, your core muscle temperatures, and your aerobic consumption (breathing). Now is the time too for some active stretching and/or strides. Next secure an appropriate spot on the starting line. When the gun goes off, start at a conservative pace but one that allows you to be in contact with the runners who are your competitors. The first one-third of the race you should be fairly comfortable – SETTLE IN. Match the pace of your competitors. Don’t worry yet about making a move. If there a lot of curves/turns on the course, try to run the tangents (the shortest distance around the curve – It does add up).
During the middle one-third, you need to start RACING. Mentally, this is the toughest part of the race. Focus on now – “live in the moment.” If you are with your competitors, maintain. If you are behind your competitors, you should try to slowly (not too fast) close up the gap to get in to “contact” with them. As you approach them (about 10 yards behind), match their pace while you gather yourself for an AGGRESSIVE SURGE. When you feel you are ready, move laterally away from them so that you will not pass close to them and start a sustainable surge. Pass assertively! Continue your surge for as long as you can. Do not look back to see what progress you made. This is a sign of weakness. Conversely, if a competitor passes you, try to move close to them and match their speed. You may only have to sustain this new pace until they realize that they did not “drop” you. If you cannot maintain their pace, hook an imaginary fishing line to them and slowly reel them out. Use them to “pull” you along. (You may be able to reel them back in).
In the last one-third of the race, you’ll have to make decisions based on the competitors around you. Mentally, you’ll have to remind yourself that you have invested two-thirds of your race already and that now is not the time to allow for resignation of effort. This is your last chance to close up gaps and/or respond to any competitors going by you. I prefer to settle the outcome well before the ultimate surge because if my top speed isn’t enough at that point, then it’s out of my hands. I try to BREAK MY COMPETITOR’S SPIRIT early enough so I will not have to have a sprint finish. In the last one-quarter mile, increase your leg “turnover” (think “quick feet”) while trying to maintain your stride length. You will have to use your arms more (like uphill running). Breathing “too” hard is okay at this point because you do not need to sustain it indefinitely. Your body will find oxygen stored in your muscles. If there are any sharp corners in the final stretch, you can take a “peek” as you turn to gauge the relationship to your now defeated competitors (just in case they mistakenly believe that they still have a chance to beat you.)
After you finish, be humble and thankful that your competitors were there to enable you to meet your goal. Congratulate your competitors (in a way that doesn’t demean them – ie: “You really made me work for that!”) Afterwards, make a mental note of how your race went strategically.
Sometimes, you can have a great “race” and your time is irrelevant, but usually, if you are engaged in applying a planned race strategy, you will be pleasantly impressed with your time as well.