There are countless ways to run a race. Should you run even splits or a negative split? What if you’re trying to run a new PR?
Last year I wanted racing advice from the best – Olympic Trials qualifiers, pro coaches, ultramarathoners, and more bad ass runners who have accomplished a lot more than me.
After all, if you want to improve then learn from the best.
So I asked 12 runners, coaches, and leaders in the running industry to share their best racing strategies.
And the response was incredible. Here’s a few people who contributed:
- Doug Hay – ultramarathoner and creator of Rock Creek Runner
- Mario Fraioli – author of The Official Rock ‘n Roll Guide to Marathon and Half Marathon Training
- Laura Schwecherl – Boston Qualifier and Outreach Director at Greatist
- and 10 more!
The book is called 13 Lucky Racing Tips for Your Next Personal Best: Pacing and Race Strategy from Elite Coaches, Boston Qualifiers, and All-Americans.
You can download it now – for free.
Today, I want to share a preview of these race strategies so you can dominate your next 5k, 10k, or longer race (they work no matter what distance you’re preparing for).
Let’s do it!
Layered Half Marathon Pacing
My favorite distance is the half marathon and for this distance, I use a layered strategy.
For the first 1-2 miles, I focus, quite literally, on putting one foot in front of the other, keeping a safe distance from those around me, and not weaving in and out of people. A PR for 13.1 miles is not going to be made or broken in the first 15 minutes of your race.
After the first 5k, I ask myself a few important questions that help determine my strategy for the rest of the race. What’s my current pace? What would I need to do in the final 10 miles to reach my goal? Do I need to slow down for just a bit? Do I feel good enough to step up the pace a little bit?
From there, I try to develop an even, comfortable pace to the halfway point and do another quick analysis. I ask myself: is my goal within reach? If yes, keep going. If no, can I make up time? Or is it time to just make it a long training run and not risk my long-term health?
Then, it’s on to mile 10. With just 5k to go, I know how much I have left in the tank. If my goal or PR is within reach and I feel good, I drop the hammer. I do not look at my watch anymore.
If my goal isn’t realistic, I either reset my goal for a reasonable 5k or back off. Much of this strategy depends on my long-term goals, so plan accordingly for your race!
Why You Should Expect the Worst
When most of us visualize race day, we conjure up perfect conditions: The sun is lightly peeking out from behind the clouds, the air is cool, and the wind, if it even exists, is a tailwind.
That alone will set you up for failure.
No matter what the race website promises or the weather trends have been for the last 25 years, don’t expect perfect conditions on race day. In fact, expect the opposite. Sure, it sounds pessimistic, but it’s also realistic. If you’re expecting the weather to be perfect on race day, it becomes that much harder to get yourself out the door for a training run on the days when the weather is less than stellar.
Preparing for the worst will also save you a lot of drama when, a week before race day, the forecast has raindrops instead of a smiling sunshine. Freaking out, checking the weather forecast every 20 minutes, and praying to the weather gods wastes a LOT of energy. Train in every condition Mother Nature throws your way, so you’re prepared to race in every condition.
I say this because the best race-day advice I ever got was from my partner, Neil, after I was told of a piss-poor weather forecast for an upcoming race. While whining about how horribly I was going to suck that day, Neil matter-of-factly took my hands and dished out the tough love:
“You’re not special. You think you’ve got it harder than everyone out there? You don’t. Every single person on that course is dealing with the same wind, the same rain, and the same chill. You’re all suffering. Take it like a champ.”
Take it like a champ, indeed. Even on the rainiest of days, you can still shine.
Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). She is a columnist for Competitor, No Meat Athlete, and Triathlete.com. Susan lives in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. Her website is SusanLacke.com.
How to Race a Negative Split… Every Time
Unless you’re running an 800m race (where slight positive splits are likely best) or you’re running a marathon (where you can argue that even splits are preferable) then a negative split race is definitely the way to go.
At the elite level most distance running world records have been broken running negative split races; at the recreational level most PRs have been run when an athlete executes a negative split race.
So, what is a negative split race? Simply this: a race where the second half of the race is faster than the first half. That doesn’t mean that at the halfway point you need to speed up. Instead, you just have to, at some point in the second half of the race, speed up.
A great way to put this into practice is to try to run the last 10-15% of the race faster after having run even splits up to that point. For example, in a 10k race you could run the first 5 miles at an even pace, then speed up for the next mile and then put in a kick for the last 0.2 miles of the race. That would be a great execution of a negative split race plan – running the majority of the race at an even pace, then having two pace changes in the later stages of the race.
So if you’re looking at your GPS watch data or looking at splits online after a race and you see that you decelerated in the second half of the race, make the change and go out easier the next time you race.
If you do that you’ll have a good chance of speeding up the second half of your next race and running a PR.
Coach Jay Johnson has a MS in kinesiology and applied physiology, is the director of the Boulder Running Camps, and a contributor to Running Times, Active.com, and Nike. He has coached three athletes that have won US national titles in indoor track, cross country, and road racing. He is also the co-founder of RunningDVDs.com.
10 More Race Strategies!
Want the complete book – with advice from Olympic Trials qualifier Jeff Gaudette and ultramarathoner Joel Runyon?
Give it a read and then let me know – are there any race tactics that we missed? Would you love to hear from a particular person on how to best tackle a race?
Leave a comment below and I’ll make it happen!