One of the hardest things for a runner to learn is how to race. It sounds easy: you pin on your bib number and start running as soon as you hear the gun go off. In reality it actually takes a lot of practice and some runners never seem to ever get it right. I’ve seen athletes prepare themselves for months to then completely blow it at some point of the race. If this happens in an event like the Moonlight 10km or Half Marathon in Jesolo it’s not a big problem; you can race those same distances again in a short amount of time. But it can be a hard learning experience if it happens in a marathon, not to mention a certain amount of pain.
To understand how to race you’ll have to get out there and practice it several times before you have your very own perfect racing plan. By racing you’ll be able to understand where your weak points are and how you can improve them for the next event. Here’s a few of my suggestions from watching literally thousands of runner’s mistakes.
- Always start out slow. The number one mistake most runners make in racing any distance is to start too fast. I’ve seen Personal Records obtained in the first half of a race to then watch them fade away or even walk to the finish line. You might think you feel great in those first few miles but you’re actually feeding off adrenaline and burning through precious glycogen storage. Always start out slow. It’ll allow you to have the energy to speed up towards the finish line.
- Stay on the course. You can add a lot of distance by not paying attention to where you’re running or how the race course is laid out. This means no zigzagging or going left and right to get around people or obstacles. The race organizers might have even put a line on the road where they’ve measured the distance. My advice: follow it. In lieu of the line look for corners to cut and the straightest line to the finish.
- Draft off other runners. Cyclist use this tactic regularly and runners should too. You can reduce your wind resistance by 90% and decrease your energy expenditure by almost 10% by just running directly behind another runner. It’s done by choosing someone that’s running at your same speed and tucking in behind them. Large pacing groups will also do the job. Initially you’ll feel like you’ve slowed down a few seconds but it’s just the wind resistance working in your favor.
- Pick off other runners. Pick out a runner that’s a good distance ahead of you. I usually look for someone with clothing that stands out, like a bright green shirt, for example. Concentrate on them and slowly reel them in. It might take a few minutes or many miles, the important thing is to keep your eye on them and eventually pass. Then look for your next victim!
- Practice on shorter distances. Race as many of the shorter distances as you can, even several a month. Practice calming yourself before the start and neurologically memorize how to slow yourself down in those first few miles so that you can successfully sprint to the finish line.