These race tips and tactics can make a difference
It’s time for some self-disclosure: We all are a just a little competitive with our running. The foe may be our own self, a neighbor, a professional colleague, or age grouper. It’s what makes us runners, right?
With these race tips on preparation and tactics, you’re sure to slay your personal demons – or local adversaries – of course, all in the spirit of fun.
Know your race route. A popular road or trail race will necessitate an early arrival to secure parking and to scope out available restroom options. Assess how the start is set up – is it wide for a while or narrows immediately? Note significant changes in elevation and significant turns/tunnels. Review the last mile, if possible. Does it end on a level surface or up a significant grade? Perhaps you make a sharp turn and it is only a hundred yards in the distance or it lingers ahead at the end of a straightaway that seems to last forever.
Fuel up. Your pre-event meal depends on the distance of the race. Upon waking, drink a 12-ounce glass of water. I like oatmeal and raisins with a dash of peanut butter for half-marathons and beyond eaten several hours before the event washed down with a cup or two of black coffee. Shorter distances may just require a slice of raisin toast or half a bagel with the mandatory coffee. The key point here is do not try anything new on race day in terms of food consumption. I also recommend avoiding spicy food the evening before to minimize the frequency of potty breaks.
Dress for success. Event clothing should be gear that you have worn before. If you are traveling, be prepared for any weather. Alaska mornings are cool, so warm-ups are nice before the event but strip down for the race. Lots of experienced runners wear throwaway gear over their racing outfit or use a heavy- duty trash bag to keep warm. It is amazing how fast you heat up once the competition begins. Finally, I strongly advocate carrying a bandanna for all off-road events; otherwise you may be using your T-shirt as a pressure dressing if you take a spill.
Pace properly. Know your realistic race pace per mile and try to stick with it. Know the course route in detail so you can mentally rehearse the race. Note changes in elevation, availability of shade and the location of aid stations. If the start narrows quickly, try maneuvering yourself to get through that choke point quickly then settle into your pace.
Race smart. Do run the tangents – the shortest route on turns – for road races and events run on bike paths. To gap competition behind you, accelerate after a blind curve or tunnel to put some extra distance between you and your adversary. Also if you are a strong hill runner maintain your pace on the climb and carry it over the top. Even if you are fatigued, do not look back to see who is behind since the trailing runner will often view that action as a sign of weakness and become motivated to chase you down.
Grind in. The last mile is where the gut factor comes into play. Skip any water stations and focus on your form and leg turnover. Gradually increase your pace and build your speed for a strong finish. Pick out runners in front of you and work to pass them. Sometimes you may duel with the same person a few times before the finish and the outcome will rest in your ability to have a strong finishing kick. You can improve that strong finish by ending your training runs strong or by doing a series of strides – 50- to 100-yard pick ups once or twice a week after your run.
Have fun. Above all keep the race experience fun. These race tips and tactics are just a few of the tools I’ve used over my 45 years as a competitive and recreational runner. Nowadays my stiffest competitor and faithful running companion continues to be my shadow, and that’s plenty of motivation.
Keep striding and smiling,