10 Racing Strategies to Run Your Best
Know Your Competition
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If there is a specific opponent you want to beat, learn his racing strengths and weaknesses. If you know that John always starts too fast and gets slower with each mile, you can feel confident that if you let him go in the beginning and stay relatively close, you'll pass him late in the race. If you know Jane has a better kick than you, you need to be far enough ahead of her in the latter stages of the race so that any sprint that Jane uses will be too late to catch you.
Visualize Your Race Before It Happens
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Imagining your race before you run it allows you to experience it beforehand, making you more comfortable. Practice visualizing your race each day for a few days before it; try to use all of your senses. See the race course, feel the contraction of your muscles as your legs push forcefully against the ground, see yourself blowing past your opponents, feel your pace, taste the experience. Then, when it's time for your race, you will have already run it.
Know What Pace You Can Sustain
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Your workouts are invaluable for providing you with knowledge of your fitness level, and for predicting your average race pace (assuming you account for such things like the terrain and the weather). I see runners all the time ignoring the workouts they have done when they get to a race, and start the race at a pace they cannot sustain for the entire distance. Learn from your workouts and know going into the race what pace you can expect to sustain.
Have Specific, Meaningful Goals
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By having specific goals for your races, it allows you to get away from thinking about the race as a whole, which can be overwhelming. It also allows for something positive to be taken from each race, even if the overall outcome is disappointing. Have one or two goals for each race that are within your control.
Control Your Nerves
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Every runner gets nervous before a race. That's perfectly normal. Being nervous means that you care. The important thing is not to let your nervousness get the better of you and prevent you from running a winning race. Acknowledge that you're nervous, but use it as fuel.
Run Even or Negative Splits
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The best way to run your fastest race is by running the second half at a pace that is equal to or slightly faster than the first half. To negative split a race requires accurate knowledge of your fitness level, confidence to stick to your plan, and a good dose of self-restraint. The most economical racing strategy is to prevent large fluctuations in pace and run as evenly as possible to keep muscle acidosis as low as possible until you near the finish.
Stay Close to Your Opponents
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If a large gap opens up between you and your opponent, it can be very difficult to close the gap and beat him or her. So try to do whatever you can to remain close to your opponent at all times during the race. If your opponent does get ahead of you, know how much rope you can give him or her that is still safe for you to make up the distance before the finish line.
Keep Changing the Pace
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Sometimes whom you beat and the place in which you finish matters more than the time on the clock. In those races, a great winning racing strategy is to keep changing the pace on your opponent—in effect turning the race into a very hard fartlek. This strategy is very debilitating to other runners. If you can handle changing the pace throughout the race, this is a very big weapon to have in your arsenal. Since this strategy is so demanding, it must be practiced in your workouts.
Own the Process
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Racing isn't something that just happens. To run a winning race, you must take ownership of the process. Don't just let things and other runners pass you by. Know when to hold back and when to take control of certain moments in the race. Become an integral part of the racing process and take responsibility for your thoughts and actions, before, during and after the race.
Become Your Own Hero
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There is a moment in every race when it starts to feel uncomfortable. While it's a natural to back off from physical discomfort for self-preservation, one of the things that makes runners unique is their penchant for pain. It is in that moment in the race that you learn about yourself and what you are willing to do to meet your goal. Racing gives you a chance to discover the answer and, in so exploring, become the person you want to be.