A blog by runners. For runners.

Picking a race strategy

I hate to admit this, but my race strategy has largely been the same for most of the events I’ve run. Show up, start running, cruise along, and hope to get a PR. Yes, I train to meet certain time goals. Yes, I secretly want to do ridiculously well despite telling everyone before the gun goes off that I’m just hoping “to run strong and finish without walking” that day.

And though my old “strategy” has worked for me, my gain in speed and fitness has slowed as I left beginner running territory and have become more seasoned. I figure it’s time I start planning a real course of action if I want to see improvements.

For my front-of-the-pack husband, race strategy can mean the difference between winning or losing an event. So, I asked him to explain the top three racing strategies to me, as well as the pros and cons of each.

Strategy 1: Go out fast.

For some, blazing from the start can help secure position and take advantage of unique course features like a downhill start. For others, beginning at a faster-than-race-pace speed can be a huge mistake. This strategy is recommended for frontrunners or seasoned racers running short distance races where it’s a game of holding on, sticking strong, and picking off competitors. Generally, though, this method is a huge gamble and quite often ends in pain, agony, and heartbreak.

Strategy 2: Keep a steady pace.

Running even splits can be ideal, especially if you’re on a flat/predictable course or completing a longer distance race like a half marathon or marathon. If you have logged repeats or have practiced a goal pace, staying in the zone can be both smart and comforting. This strategy is good if you have a clear idea of your fitness and ability to stay on target, but is not recommended if your goal is aggressive and you’ve missed key workouts in your training. Another benefit? If you have more in the tank near the end after holding your goal pace, you still have room to get a good kick and finish faster than expected.

Strategy 3: Start slow, finish strong.

This method is great for beginners or people, like me, who are new to the whole strategy while racing game. By holding back the first third to half of a race (depending on race distance, of course — maybe 1 mile for 5K and 13.1 or more for a full marathon), you give yourself time to check in with your body and build confidence. From there, bring up the pace to goal or even faster with all those untapped reserves. Beware, though, because starting too slow can derail PR plans and leave you scrambling to make up for lost time.

There are many more ways to run a race, including hybrids of these strategies and more. But we’d love to hear from you what’s worked best in your experience.

How do you approach race day? Does it vary by distance? Has it changed over time?

Written by  Ashley Marcin.