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You’ve done the hard work: Sunday long runs, race-specific speed workouts, and the countless little things that have kept you healthy throughout your training program. You were smart about getting enough sleep and eating right. You even bought a foam roller and did your barefoot strides (impressive!).
Race day is around the corner and you feel prepared. Your fitness level is higher than it has ever been and you’re ready.
But how do you execute a good race? There are a lot of racing strategies that you can use on your big day. Each has its benefits and limitations and can help you reach your goals – whatever they may be.
It’s true that the terrain of a race will directly impact how you run it. You’ll certainly want to race differently on the Chicago Marathon course (flat and fast) than Boston (downhill in the beginning, but killer hills right before the 20-mile mark). When you consider the elevation gain/loss, turns, weather, and distance there are almost countless ways to race.
I want to focus on the most common – and most effective – ways to run a fast race. Whether you’re a minimalist runner like Charlene, total newbie, or seasoned vet there’s a strategy that can help you.
Go Out Fast!
This style of racing is popular for fit runners who know they can handle a faster pace at the very beginning of a race. It also works for courses that are flat or downhill at the beginning where you can run faster without a lot more additional effort.
The strategy has you run significantly faster over the first quarter to third of the race distance. If you’re running a 5k, I would recommend running the first mile faster than your overall goal pace. For a 10k, the first 1-2 miles.
You’re going to slow down a little with this racing strategy and that’s fine. It’s certainly aggressive and could potentially lead you to a PR. After all, how do you know what you’re capable of if you don’t push the envelope? Just keep in mind there’s also the possibility of significantly slowing down and running a poor race. It’s a gamble, which is why I think it’s my favorite way of racing!
Run Even Splits!
Most runners try to run races at exactly their goal pace for the entire distance. You’ll generally find that you feel better with this race strategy and won’t be in oxygen debt as early as when you go out very fast. It also works when you’re unsure of your fitness and want to play it safe.
The drawback of trying to run even splits all the time is that if you’ve reached a new level of fitness it’s difficult to determine just how fit you really are. I’m very fond of saying, “To do something you’ve never done before, you have to do something you’ve never done before.”
Certain race distances lend themselves very well to this strategy: ultramarathons, marathons, and even half-marathons. As a race gets longer the potential for anything and everything to go wrong is high. Rationing your energy and playing it safe is often the best decision.
Go Out Slow and Kick Hard!
Intentionally running slow at the start of a race has its place: if the weather is hot or humid, you’re not as fit as you’d like, or the course is extremely hilly or at elevation makes this a desirable race strategy.
I personally like to use this strategy when I’m using a race as a workout. Running negative splits teaches your body to run fast when it’s tired and is a great confidence booster.
However, it likely won’t result in a personal best. You’re going to lose more time in the beginning of the race than you can make up later so you probably won’t run as fast as you could with the other two strategies. If you’re trying to be competitive and respond to other runners, it’s also not the way to race.
Go out slow and kick hard when you want a good workout and to help your body transition from slower to faster paces when it’s under duress.
Depending on your race calendar and what your goals are, these race strategies will help you run faster than ever or just get in a great workout.
Call for comments: What race styles do you prefer? Have you used a strategy above to help you run a personal best? Let us know!