Know Your Tactics: 10 Racing Strategies


Most runners run races without giving much thought as to how they are going to run the race. They just pay their entry fee and run, without any intention to their actions, hoping for a good result. Successful racing takes knowledge, planning and execution—and a little courage. When you develop and execute your race plan, you’ll achieve your potential and run better races. Try these racing strategies.

Strategy 1: Know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and capitalize on them

Knowing your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses can help you desing a race plan that will help you beat him or her. For example, if there is a specific opponent you want to beat, you should know whether he or she tends to go out too fast when the race starts, which parts of the race he or she is weaker, and whether he or she has a good finishing kick.

If you know that John always goes out too fast and gets slower with each successive mile, you can feel confident that if you let him go in the beginning and stay relatively close, you’ll pass him late in the race when he fatigues. If you know Jane has a better kick than you, you need to be far enough ahead of her in the latter stages of the race so that any kick that Jane uses will be too late to catch you.

Strategy 2: Visualize your race before it happens.

Visualizing your race before you run it allows you to experience it beforehand, making the experience familiar and thus making you less nervous. If the experience is familiar, you will feel more comfortable. Practice visualizing your race each day for a few days before it, seeing the whole experience. Try to use all of your senses in your visualization.

See the track or race course, feel the contraction of your muscles as your legs push forcefully against the ground, feel your arms pumping and driving you forward, see yourself blowing past your opponents, hear your feet touch the ground, smell the air, see yourself react to other runners’ moves, feel your pace, taste the experience. Then, when it’s time for your race, you will have already run it.

Strategy 3: Know what pace you can sustain in the race.

Your workouts are invaluable for providing you with knowledge of your fitness level and for predicting your average race pace (assuming you account for such things like the terrain and the weather). I see runners all the time ignoring the workouts they have done when they get to a race, and start the race at a pace they cannot sustain throughout the distance. Learn from your workouts and know going into the race what pace you can expect to sustain.

Strategy 4: Have specific, meaningful goals in mind for your race.

By having specific goals for your races, it allows you to get away from thinking about the race as a whole, which can be overwhelming. It also allows for something positive to be taken from each race, even if the overall outcome is disappointing. Have one or two goals for each race that are within your control.

Strategy 5: Control your nerves at the starting line.

Every runner gets nervous before a race. That’s perfectly normal. Being nervous means that you care. The important thing is to not let your nervousness get the better of you and prevent you from running a winning race. Acknowledge that you’re nervous, but use it as fuel.

Strategy 6: Run even or negative splits.

The best way to run your fastest possible race and beat others is by running the second half of the race at a pace that is equal to or slightly faster than the first half (even or negative splits). To negative split a race requires accurate knowledge of your fitness level, confidence to stick to your plan when others have taken the early pace out too fast, and a good dose of self-restraint.

The most economical racing strategy, when you want to achieve a specific time rather than a specific place, is to prevent large fluctuations in pace and run as evenly as possible to keep muscle acidosis as low as possible until you near the finish.

Strategy 7: Stay close to your opponent at all times.

If a large gap opens up between you and your opponent, it can be very difficult to close the gap and beat him or her. So try to do whatever you can to remain close to your opponent at all times during the race. If your opponent does get ahead of you, know how much rope you can give him or her that is still safe for you to make up the distance before the finish line and don’t give him or her any more rope than that.

Strategy 8: Keep changing the pace.

While the best way to run your fastest possible time in a race is to run as even splits as possible, sometimes whom you beat and the place in which you finish matter more than the time on the clock. In those races, a great winning racing strategy is to keep changing the pace on your opponent, in effect turning the race into a very hard fartlek.

This strategy is very debilitating to other runners. If you can handle changing the pace throughout the race, this is a very big weapon to have in your arsenal. Since this strategy is so demanding, it must be practiced in your workouts.

Strategy 9: Own the process.

Racing isn’t something that just happens. To run a winning race, one that you can be proud of, you must take ownership of the process. Don’t just let things and other runners pass you by. Know when to hold back and when to take control of certain moments in the race. Avoid going into the race thinking, “I’m just going to run and see what happens.” Rather, go into the race thinking, “This is what I want to accomplish, so this is what I’m going to do.” Become an integral part of the racing process and take responsibility for your thoughts and actions, before, during and after the race.

Strategy 10: Become your own hero.

There is a moment in every race when it starts to feel uncomfortable.  While it’s a natural human tendency to back off from physical discomfort for self-preservation, one of the things that makes runners unique is their penchant for seeking it out. It is in that moment in the race that you learn about yourself and what you are willing to do to meet your goal.  Do you back off from the pain, or do you address the pain and push through it? 

Racing gives you a chance to discover the answer and, in so exploring, become the person you want to be. You want to walk away from your race feeling like you gave it everything you had. You want to be proud of yourself. Racing gives you the opportunity to become someone better than you currently are. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning.

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