April 2018 - RUNNING & MULTISPORT
Race Smarter to the Finish Line
By Shelly Binsfeld
Sports are a strategic game. Knowing more strategies to positively position yourself within the race helps to outwit competitors or even yourself. The racing experience becomes deeper and more intriguing when race strategies are employed. After 16 training years and over 250 races ranging from 400 meters to half marathons, I have gathered a few gems to share with you. When asked to imagine a calming location, often people place themselves on an ocean’s beach. I place myself on the center turf of an outdoor track meet with the hot sun shining down on me as I stretch and listen to the fans cheer.
Uphill – Uphills are an opportunity to mentally outwit competition. Always run over the top of the hill. So many runners slow down once they reach the highest point of the hill, thinking they need a break. However, at the top of a hill where there is no increase in elevation, the body receives the break it needs all the while continuing at race pace. Additionally, a downhill is likely on the upcoming portion of the course where an extra recovery is gained since gravity helps pull a runner down the hill.
Tangents – If a GPS watch calculates a distance of 3.2 or more on a USATF certified 5K course, you are probably not running the tangents. Make the course as short as legally possible by running straight lines from corner to corner. Use caution when you are elbow to elbow with other runners; the racing crowd becomes broad and not aware of the tangents within a race course. Those meters added by taking the corners too wide, or not running a straight line through a windy road can impact the over distance, making the race longer than needed. Reduce these occurrences by viewing the course beforehand.
Half-Mile Secret – Increase the effort when a half-mile from the finish, in order to perform the last stage of the race well. Many runners will not have the mental strength to give their last push until they can see the finish line. But a runner doesn’t need to see the finish line to know it is coming. During the warm-up, run the course in the opposite direction to a half mile from the finish line. Note a landmark that can signal an initiation to increase effort, which will result in the speed to pass unprepared competitors.
Thirds – Break the 5K and 15K race distances up into thirds. In the first third of the race, hold back the adrenaline rush and get a good even rhythm going. For the second third of the race, run with a hard effort, pushing the body. Then compete with the strength of the heart for the last third of the race, remembering goals and desires. You can do the same with a 10K.
Change Gears – When having a bad race and not in the groove, try alternating into a different gear. A runner can first run faster to see if that lessens the pain or involves them in the dynamics of the race. If that doesn’t work, they haven’t lost anything and can try running slower. Sometimes a different pace is all that is needed. It is similar to driving a stick shift car. Getting into the right gear can help the engine purr.
Every Second – Every second counts. Runners I have worked with have come back with the comment that they frequently hear my voice repeat this truth. It is so true. Danielle Maslowsky of Ballston Lake and I ran a race several years ago, and as we got within 400 meters of the finish, I knew we would be so close to her goal of running under 19 minutes. Her finish time was 18:59:50. The computer system then rounds the time to 19:00. One-half second off of her goal. One step faster, one small push within the middle of the race, or a tighter tangent kept her from running a 5K under 19 minutes. Never forget how much a second can matter. Treat each second in a race as valuable.
Two-Mile Race – When racing a 5K earlier in the training season, race to the two-mile mark, making it the finish line of hard effort. Often the thought of hard effort for a full three miles is discouraging and prevents racing. Treat the race as a two-mile workout. Don’t worry about the third mile. At the two-mile marker choose whether to slow down slightly, and finish the race out knowing that a strong workout was accomplished, or stay in the race trying to beat the person ahead. In a Labor Day race several years ago I employed this strategy. I ended up at the second mile marker alongside another runner. We had been fighting to stay in front of each other during the previous mile. One more mile didn’t seem so daunting since I was invested in the outcome.
Nerves – Experienced racers still get nervous, often hating the night before jitters and stressful morning car rides to the race course. However, the reaction is completely natural and signals the body to release the hormones needed to encourage performance. Knowing that fact helps you accept the discomfort and remember the rewarding feelings of post-race moments. Often once a racer starts the warm-up routine, their mind calms down and they enjoy the process. Don’t let nervous feelings cause more nervousness.
Without A Watch – Don’t look at the watch. Just run. Does it really matter what the time is at the mile markers? What matters is if you’re in the groove and seeking to pass other runners.
Hold Back – Hold back on the first mile of a race. If you take a season just practicing the pace that is appropriate on the first mile, you will find great dividends. Practice this during your training by running at 90% race pace effort within a few workout sessions.
Smile – Run with a smile. I know you doubt me on this one, but I have had too many great races when I have run with a smile on my face. Number one, it takes less energy to smile than grit my teeth or frown. Second, the positive thoughts accompanying smiling help keep me believing in my ambitions and keep me running with gratitude. Third, this posture helps the upper body stay relaxed and moving in sync with the lower body.
Lastly, avoid disqualifying race results by immediately expecting to be faster the next race. My fastest 5K ever was surprising and an absolute thrill. The next morning on my recovery run I immediately created an expectation to run my next 5K faster. Looking back on that morning I wish I would have just reveled in the accomplishment and not expected more of myself, accepting it as a great time, worthy of being my best ever time.
Shelly Binsfeld (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Elk River, Minn. is a competitive runner, wife and mother of four children. Her running joy is to guide others through their training as a USATF coach and Pilates instructor.