This is it! Get ready to test your training. It’s 5a.m. on a cloudy, damp Saturday morning in May and you start lacing up your shoes and wondering what ever possessed you to sign up for this “thing”. You will see friends where you are going but you can’t shake the jittery feeling when thinking about that period of time you are going to feel like that wet dish rag you left on the kitchen sink. Your heart races a little and you wonder, “How will I perform? I don’t want to get embarrassed out there.”
Friends, I have raced many races and I still feel this way every time I enter a 5 or 10k and it’s something most runners can’t seem to shake. I’m not going to give away all my tactics but in this post I would like to pass on some tips I have picked up from other racers and from personal experience.
There are a few things we need to address that seem like common sense but still need to be said. First, if you want to PR or improve on your overall performance, don’t carry on a conversation with your friends or the person next to you when that starting gun goes off. If you want to do that in a half marathon or longer, that’s another story. This is racing and you should not be happily socializing if you want to do well. Let’s see those “game faces people!”
Second, the beginning of a 5 or 10k can be pretty congested. Try to line up NOT where you think your finish pace is located, but with the people that are a little faster than you. The first couple minutes of any race you will most likely be running a better overall pace than usual and won’t need to worry about holding up other racers. Patience in the first minute or two is imperative. Don’t spend energy zigzagging through opponents in an effort to get a clear lane. Wait for a hole to open and then shoot through. Crowds tend to thin out quickly so you need to resist the urge to go out too fast. I have made this mistake and found myself in the middle of mile 2 gagging as I try to regroup.
Most courses have hills and it is better to change to a shorter step when attacking them. This is a point in the race where you need to temporarily throw that urgency to finish well out the window. With discipline you can easily make up the lost time on the decline. But go up too fast and you could be suffering for the next mile. As you approach the start of mile 3 the course turns to the left behind some trees. These are blind curves and very useful for shaking off the inexperienced runners behind you. Try to pick up the pace in an effort to pull away from the competition that is 40 feet or more behind you. Once you make the turn, slow your pace up just a bit in order to recover your breathing. From the perspective of the runners trailing, they saw you eat up some pavement just before you disappeared out of sight. Many racers get discouraged and slow down because they think you maintained that pace after you left their field of vision.
One of the most basic concepts in a race is taking the inside lane in a turn is ALWAYS beneficial. It is always better to drop your pace just a bit and fall in behind another racer until the turn has been completed. Now you can easily move back along side that pain in the butt that’s been stalking you the entire race. Just watch any auto race and the same strategy comes into play. If you feel like you can take or hold the inside line, put your opponent on the outside and watch him struggle trough the turn. You will be surprised at the amount of energy consumed by taking the long way around. Try it with a friend during a practice run and you will see what I mean.
Inevitably you are going to come up on another runner that is close to your pace. Do not try to pass immediately but instead shadow him. Slowly creep up until you are close enough to “rattle” him a little and hang in there. I like to get as close as possible while still maintaining safety. Sunny days work best since you can manipulate your shadow into his field of vision. You will find that just your close proximity is a mental distraction for the other runner and he will usually concede the position.
On occasion I find myself needing a little breather so I slow the pace down a bit. Unfortunately there is usually someone breathing down my neck. In this case, I try to find another person on the course that I am closing on. Pull up next to that runner and drop your pace for a short period in an effort to stay right along side of him. This will “block” the people behind and give you a chance at recovery. BE WARNED! This tactic is very frustrating to other racers and the more experienced ones will “nudge” you out of the way after they have given you a few seconds. If you attempt this don’t get upset if you get pushed out of the way. By the same token I am sure you have already experienced other runners blocking you, whether it be intentional or unintentional it can get irritating. Don’t lose your cool and slowly force your way through the middle of the two runners even if it mean brushing up against them. This is is a race and no time to be saying, “Excuse me sir, may I get by?” It is important to remember that you don’t want to be overaggressive and be labeled a dirty racer. While it’s more prevalent in the start of a race, I have been elbowed and shoved and I will give it right back. But after we all cross the finish line there should be no bad feelings and the knowledge that we gave our best effort.© Copyright 2012 The Hornet, All rights Reserved. Written For: Adventures In Running