An often overlooked, but extremely important, part of racing is developing a solid plan for your upcoming race. All too often, athletes approach the competition that they have spent months, or even years, training for without a definitive idea of how they will tackle the race distance. Listed below are common considerations when developing a race plan.
Time vs. Place
When developing your race plan, determine whether you are running for time or place. If you have a goal time in mind, such as to qualify for the Boston Marathon, your plan will be different than if you are seeking to be in the top in your age group or within the first 100 finishers. Determine what splits you will need to reach your time goal, or which competitors you should run near in order to realize your goals.
Especially for longer races, many runners commonly believe that it is wise to “bank” time by running the first half significantly faster than goal pace. For instance, a runner who is trying to break 4 hours in the marathon may think that by running 1:52 for the first half, a sufficient “cushion” is made in case he or she slows down in the second half of the race. In reality, wasting too much energy in the first half is much more detrimental than running slightly too slowly in the beginning. In fact, nearly every long distance world record has been set with an “even split” approach, meaning that the second half of the race was run at the same pace or slightly faster than the first half. Runners should practice this approach during long runs by running the second half of the run 5 – 10 seconds per mile faster than the first half.
The next consideration a runner should make involves course topography. For instance, if the course is flat, a runner can reasonably expect to run even splits throughout the race. However, if there are significant uphill or downhill portions, a runner should plan accordingly. For example, some races finish with a large downhill. For races like these, athletes who often slow down at the end of the race may consider running faster than normal, knowing that the downhill portion will propel them to the finish line.
Another important consideration is the length of the race. A race plan for a 5k will be significantly different for an ultra marathon. When racing a longer distance, such as any race longer than 10 miles, it is important to have a defined hydration and nutrition plan. Study the course map and determine where you will take water, sports drink, and nutritional items. For shorter races, athletes may want to determine when they will start their kick, instead of leaving it to a race-time decision. For instance, 5k runners may want to look at the map and determine where 200 m, 400 m, and 800 m to go will be.
Temperature can play a huge role in performance on race day, and runners should respect that times may be faster or slower than anticipated, depending on Mother Nature. For longer races, 45 – 55o F is often considered ideal. As the temperature becomes warmer, times typically become relatively slower. If you are competing in an especially hot or humid race, take extra precautions to run the first portion of the race conservatively, and adjust the rest of your race plan as needed.
“I want” vs. “I will”
Finally, when developing your race plan replace any “I want,” “I wish,” or “I hope” phrases with “I will.” Too often, runners approach race day saying that they hope to be able to hit or a certain pace, or wish for a certain place. Just as you would not approach practice unsure of what pace you will hit for a workout or long run, do not sell yourself short on race day.