Racing Tactics & Strategies for the 10K and Half-Marathon
By Roy Stevenson
You're waiting behind the start line, twitching your legs nervously, just wanting to get going. Bang! The gun goes off. A whole universe of possibilities is waiting for you when you return to the finish at the end of your race. Will you cross this line elated that you've run close to your best time and wrung everything out of yourself that you possibly could?
Or will it be another one of those races where you grimly hang on to the bitter end, lunging across the finish line, exhausted? Will you walk away wondering why your training has been going so well, yet your time was one or two minutes slower than your best?
I suspect most runners experience the second scenario. And the reason is simple. The majority of semi-serious and recreational runners just line up, trot off when the gun goes, wait for the race to unfold, and then run their race accordingly. This is a recipe for mediocre performances, and often leads to disaster.
It seems a shame to go through all that sweat and tears in training to walk away disappointed with your performance. A poor race is discouraging for runners of all levels, not just the elite jackrabbits out front.
Numerous factors must be taken into account on race day to help you form your tactical plan for the event. Most of them stem from knowing your level of fitness, but other factors come into play as well.
Racing Tactics for Elite Runners
Let's look at the strategies followed by elite runners at the front of the pack; their tactics are arguably the easiest to plan. Traditionally elite runners will either . . .
Maintain contact with the leader or leading group, to cover fast breaks and surges, and hope to out sprint everyone in the last mile or so.
Run from the front to break away from the rest of the pack, soon after the start or at a crucial point of the race - while looking as calm and in control as they can to psyche out the rest of the studs. The idea is to hang on to the end, hoping no one else has another gear left.
Put in nasty surges throughout the race, dropping off a few runners each time, until it's down to you and one or two others, and who has the most willingness to tolerate pain left.
Racing Tactics for the Rest of us MOPs (Middle of Packers)
What about the rest of us whose aims are simply to improve our times? We must learn to run our own individual race and use intelligent pace judgment.
The Different Pacing Strategies
The three established pacing strategies are positive splits, negative splits, and even paced running.
This is when you run the first half of the race faster than the second half. Sometimes used by elite athletes but not recommended for us middle of the pack runners.
Here you appear well behind the front-runners in the early stages. But you gradually speed up, picking off the front-runners who are slowing, then come through with a roar in the last mile or two to snatch victory from bewildered front-runners who never even saw you during the entire race.
As the name implies, you run at a steady, even pace the entire distance, so your two halves of the race are nearly identical. This has some great advantages and is how most runners get their best times, and world records are set. Perhaps a better way to explain it is "even effort", meaning that your effort is distributed evenly along the course. Hence when you come to hills, you will still slow down, but your effort is maintained.