Running a race, in hopes of getting a new personal best (PB), isn’t just about showing up on the day and hoping you’ll run your fastest. It’s not about going all out for the entire race distance, or setting unrealistic race times and hoping you’ve got it in you.
You’re at the race start, ready to get going already, and the gun goes off! All runners take off ahead of you, full of adrenaline, but you start off slow. You stick to a pace no faster than your designated average pace per mile.
PB’s don’t just happen. They are the product of choosing the right type of training for your lifestyle, and implementing a series of strategies to help you become a faster runner. With all that preparation, do you just show up on the day of the race and run? Yes, but not without a little help. If you’re the type of runner that is committed to training, looking to progress and wanting to improve race times, this article is for you.
N.B.: The following tips below are best achieved using a GPS watch.
How to Run a Smart Race
Set a Time Goal
During your training, you might have thought about an ideal time; I do this when preparing for a race. Having a goal time and figuring out how to achieve it does require precise calculations; I use the McMillan Running Race Calculator to do this. You input a realistic race time into the calculator – taking into account your previous race results and the race route (Undulating? Downhill? Flat?) – and the calculator will tell you the average pace per mile you need to be running throughout the race. You can also use this information to show you anticipated race times, across all distances. This is a very useful tool for committed runners.
How will you know your pace per mile? Your GPS watch.
Create a Race Plan According to Your Race Distance
This doesn’t have to be something concrete, but rather a series of steps you’ll implement within your race. Points to consider include:
- When to take in mid-race fuel (for longer distance races).
- Choice of race fuel, and your familiarity with it.
- Which miles will you increase your pace, to finish fast?
- Are you familiar with the race route?
If you’re running a race for the first time, and you’re curious about the entire route, not just what the race website has described, it’s worth Googling recaps written by running bloggers. There’s bound to be a few on the internet that will help you prepare for that surprise uphill finish, or that undulating half marathon that some describe as ‘flat.’
Pre-race Fuel and Hydration
This includes the days leading up to the race and the morning of the race. You should be eating real foods that won’t upset your stomach, drinking plenty of water the days before the race, and eating a usual, solid breakfast the morning of the race, preferably something a bit more carb-heavy.
Start Slow, Finish Fast
You’re at the race start, ready to get going already, and the gun goes off! All runners take off ahead of you, full of adrenaline, but you start off slow. You stick to a pace no faster than your designated average pace per mile. You could even go up to thirty seconds slower, which might happen anyway as a result of a large crowds at the start. Don’t worry – you’ll still run to a new PB, but it’s best not to waste your legs so early on just because of adrenaline.
As the race progresses, ideally so too will your mile splits. Even though you’ve got an average pace per mile to stick to, that big hill in miles 2 and 3 might result in a slower few miles; don’t worry. You can make up that time later, perhaps in the downhill sections and as you get further into the race.
One strategy you can use is to look your race in three sections; I’ll explain this in the context of a half marathon. During the first eight miles, you’re running steadily, a bit slower than the desired pace per mile. From miles 8-11, you increase your pace by 10-15 seconds, hitting that desired pace. At mile 11, again you increase your pace a few seconds, running that mile faster, and then mile 12 even faster. If you can sustain a faster pace, great! You should enter the finisher’s chute sprinting to the finish.
This process requires much discipline, and is something some runners learn as a result of mistakes made during races. For anyone that follows a structured training programme beyond beginner level, this start-slow-finish-fast concept is usually embedded in your training, through progression runs and finishing long runs with the last few miles at race pace.
And what happens to the runners that sped past you at the start? You’ll sail past them at mile 6, as they’re taking a walk break.
Hills: Ascents and Descents
The best advice I can give for hills is to run them softly, both up and down. The ascent, whether a series of huge road hills or one Scottish munro, will require much strength and energy from your legs, which you also need during your entire race. If you run uphill too hard, you could risk depleting that reserved energy early on, even if you train low and race high, like the fat-burning runner you are. This would result in a slower pace and perhaps heavy legs later on. If you pound too hard down the hills, this too could kill your legs early on.
Instead, going uphill take smaller light steps and lean forward at the hips. Going downhill, run with a quicker leg turn over that allows you to run fast, but lightly.
Running a smart race requires much discipline: even though that adrenaline searing through your veins at the start gives you false hope that you’ll run your fastest race ever, you need to pace yourself, stick to your plan, and use that GPS for your mile splits throughout. You need to be sensible. Good luck and may the PB’s coming pouring in.
Do you know how to run a smart race? Have you implemented any of the above mentioned techniques into your running? Why not let us know by leaving a comment below.