By Fred Deckert
Race strategy can be simple or complex. I prefer the simple since that’s how my mind works and it gets simpler the further in a race as I proceed. One of the simplest ways is to divide your race into three equal parts. For a 5K that’s one mile intervals with 0.1 mile left over. The first split for most of us is very important. That’s where the race is made or broken. Typically the high energy level and pre race adrenaline will combine to make you run a much faster first mile than you can maintain. That has several bad effects. First, it leaves you tired and physically and mentally drained to finish those next 2.1 miles. Secondly since your pace will now slow down, you’ll be passed by other runners, maybe quite a few! This is guaranteed to make you feel even worse. Thirdly, while you may still be running reasonably well, you’ll not be running to your potential due to the physiological overdraw you just made.
So, how do you do that first mile right? You must force yourself to a pace you know you can maintain! The easiest way is to locate another runner or runners you know run that pace and stick with them. NEVER line up with people who can run faster than you, err on the other side. In a big race there will be sections cordoned off for 6,7, 8 etc minute/mile runners. Be modest, it will pay at the end.
OK, you got through the first mile on schedule. The second mile should be easier. Now your decision depends on how you assess your condition. Since the adrenal rush and first energy surge ought to be over, this should be more straightforward. If you feel good, crank it up a bit, but don’t overdo it. Now you will start having some fun, and if you begin to pass some people, don’t let it go to your head.
The third mile is more of the same, but you will try to push closer to the redline, race fatigue should keep you from going overboard and that last tenth of a mile will let you show off your kick and how well you planned the race. Few things feel better than passing your competition at the finish of the race.
You can extend this philosophy to races of most distances, from personal experience I’d add even more caution for marathon and above distances. You will seldom be sorry you went out too slow, but you can count on regrets if you run the first mile too fast.