Cute Butts and Tightening the Screws: 3 New Pacing Strategies for Your Next Race

Have you ever stood on the starting line and wondered, How the hell am I going to tackle this race?!

Fear not, fellow road racer. I have a few pacing strategies that will challenge your fitness and push you to run your best.

These race strategies are an excerpt from 13 Lucky Racing Tips For Your Next Personal Best: Pacing and Race Strategy from Elite Coaches, Boston Qualifiers, and All-Americans.

13 Lucky Racing Tips

Contributors include:

  • Jay JohnsonRunning Times contributor and coach of three US national champions
  • Susan Lacke, Ironman Triathlete and writer for Competitor
  • David Hylton, co-creator of #RunChat
  • and a lot more…

Ten more runners and coaches are included in the full ebook, which you can download here for free.

Let’s get started!

Tighten the Screws

Tightening the screws is a racing tactic I like to employ for distances from 5K to half marathon. It’s a strategy that can be used in the marathon as well, but for most runners it’s not worth the risk.

How do you do it? It’s as simple as throwing in a series of surges during a race when your competition least expects it. The goal is to take an opponent out of their rhythm in an effort to get away from them before the finish line.

As a general rule, the shorter (i.e. more intense) the race, the shorter the surges. For example, when racing a 5K, throw in a hard 15 to 30-second surge (10-20 seconds per mile faster than you averaged for the first mile), then return to your race rhythm. Didn’t shake your opponent? Do it again at mile 2. Is he still there? Throw in one final short surge with half a mile to go to try and take the finishing kick out of their legs.

In a 10K or half marathon race, since the overall effort level is less intense than it is for a 5K, stretch the surge out a bit to a minute or more. After three to four well-timed surges you’ll wear your opponent down and leave them wondering where you went!

Don’t wear a watch while racing? Pick points along the course and surge to the next light post, or stop sign, or some other landmark. Explode when you’re coming off a turn, or kick it into high gear after cresting a hill. The idea is to keep your competition guessing all the way to the finish line.

Of course, don’t try this tactic without practicing it first! Rehearse surging and recovering during tempo runs and long runs so that it doesn’t backfire when you try it in a race.

Next time you’re having trouble shaking your competition, try tightening the screws on them!

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor Magazine. He was a cross country All-American at Stonehill College and has personal bests of 4:09.77 in the mile, 14:39 for 5,000m and 2:28:25 in the marathon. He coaches the Prado Women’s Racing Team in San Diego and was the men’s marathon coach for Costa Rica at the 2012 Olympic Games. 

Know the Course and Do Your Research!

My favorite pacing strategy is something I call incremental pacing.

Instead of just calculating the average per mile pace I need to hit to meet my overall goal time, which is all I used to do when I first started running, I now spend a lot of time looking at the specific race course and I make a pacing plan for each section.

I try to be as realistic as possible about what my needs will be for the first two miles vs. the last mile, for example, and how those needs will change based on how hilly a certain section is, etc. When I go into a race as familiar with the course as possible and armed with a plan of which paces I’ll aim to hit for each section, I feel more confident – and that’s definitely reflected in my performance.

One of my biggest concerns is always that I’ll get caught up in the excitement of the race and start out by going too fast, which leads to burn-out later in the race. But I’ve found that if I decide in advance which sections of the race I’ll allow myself to really open it up and go faster, I’m more easily able to rein myself in early on.

Seeing the race as a whole, but being familiar with the smaller segments that make up that whole, really helps me keep a steady pace. Additionally, knowing which sections of the race course will be the toughest helps me to feel mentally prepared, and I like knowing that I won’t wind up being surprised by an unexpectedly big hill at mile 11 in a half marathon if I’ve done my research in advance.

Nicole Antoinette is obsessed with cutting the bullshit from daily life and she uses her blog,, to help real people ditch what they think they “should” want in pursuit of what they actually do want. She’s an aggressive nap taker and self-proclaimed green smoothie aficionado.

The Cute Butt Strategy

The hardest part of racing for me is continually pushing beyond what I think I’m capable of. It’s exceedingly easy to settle for running X-minute miles simply because I’ve always run X-minute miles. To combat this, my favorite race tactic (besides “don’t stop”) is the “cute butt strategy.”

It’s pretty straightforward:

  1. Find a cute butt of a fellow athlete that’s ahead of you.
  2. Give yourself 100 yards to catch up to them.
  3. Catch up to them before the 100 yards is up.
  4. Maintain that pace while catching your breath.
  5. Find another cute butt ahead of you and repeat.

Although it’s fairly simple, there are a few caveats you should keep in mind:

  • Don’t let anyone you’ve passed pass you. That defeats the point.
  • Don’t stare, drool, or make comments. It’s plain rude and will mostly distract you from the goal – catching them.
  • Know your pacing. You don’t want to destroy yourself too early in the race and have to walk. Start at your normal pace and implement the strategy once you hit the halfway mark. Start earlier in future races if you need to ramp it up a notch.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a butt – you can pick out a telephone pole, shirt color or something equally arbitrary, but the goal is to give you a third party measurement and motivation to pick up your pace and actively keep up your pace.

Joel Runyon is a triathlete, marathoner and athlete who focuses on pushing himself to his limits and doing the impossible. Find out more at Impossible HQ and subscribe to the blog.

Want More?

There are ten more pacing strategies in the complete book, including my personal favorite “Let Jesus Take Over.”

You can download the free book here.

After reading, I’d love to know which race tip is your favorite. Are there any others we left out? Let us know in the comments below!

Get Stronger & Run Healthy

Join our free course to help you better prevent injuries, develop runner-specific strength, and avoid the big mistakes that get runners hurt