Some race tactics can be prepared well in advance but often you will need to respond to situations as they unfold, such as a competitor making an unexpected surge. You can practice stressful tactical moves in training workouts and mentally rehearse tactical possibilities so that you are more prepared for various situations that can arise in races. Here are a series of additional tactical points to consider in your racing and preparations:
– One option is to pace to run your best time and be confident this will be good enough to beat your main competitors. This won’t exactly pit you in racing duels but can be the most effective way to compete for many of us;
– Take the lead from the start, whether leading the entire race or just the set of competitors you are pitting yourself against. You can push for the first part of a race, say the first mile, before easing into a pace you can handle to protect the lead you have established. This tactic can undermine your competitors confidence and boost your own. This tactic is not without risk because it demands that you can break away and maintain that lead without faltering during the remainder of the race. You can adapt this tactic by forging ahead early on in a race but without pushing ‘all out’ and aim to wear down your competitors over a longer period of the race.
– You can run with your competitors and look to push on ahead of them at a key part of the race. This could be at a particularly challenging point, for example on a hill, where the sight of you passing them and holding a lead can be a psychological killer blow. You need to practice putting in these surges as part of your training. The best opportunities for this are either in interval sessions or on fartlek runs. Start the session using a fast but controlled pace and somewhere in the middle of the session put in a faster interval. You can then finish the session pushing through with the remaining reps, feeling tired, to mimic the finishing conditions of a race.
– Responding to a surge — if your competitor puts in a surge during a race then you will need to be ready to respond. Try mentally tossing out a line to them and gradually pull them back into contact. Resist the temptation to go all out by responding immediately and don’t panic or give up. Try and remain calm and consider how you will respond by gradually increasing your pace and drawing them back in.
– Remember to adjust your tactics for different race distances. The tactics you use in a 5K race will not necessarily service you well in a half marathon. In a 5K race you need to be in contact with your competitors from the start whereas a half marathon distance gives you longer to respond to gaps that emerge between yourself and your competitors.
– Don’t let others psych you out! Focus on yourself and what you need to do rather than letting others get into your head! Remember, you run the race with your legs and not your mouth!
– Try running as part of a pack in the race. You can use other runners in this way to hold or push your pace, use them as a wind break or help you up hills.
– Use runners as tow ropes — drop in behind someone who passes you and stay with the pace as long as possible. If you have to let go, take a break and then try to hook up with another runner.
– Set passing goals – set yourself small goals of passing runners as the race progresses. See how many runners you can catch over the second half of a race, for example. You can play games with yourself by keeping a mental score – +1 for each runner you pass and -1 for each runner that overtakes you. By setting yourself scoring targets in final sections of races you can also help this to hold your concentration on the race and get the best out of your performance
– Don’t get bogged down with the ‘pecking order syndrome’. If you analyse your competition and work out that you should be placed behind certain runners than that is what is likely to happen. Challenge the pecking order — dare yourself to move up to a new level!
Experience of racing will give you a greater understanding of what works for you in different situations. Practice different situations in training so that you are better prepared but don’t forget — don’t leave your race in the training session! (i.e. don’t over cook your training so that you are spent for that big race coming up).