Racing well: Words from the Wise

The following are not my words but very good advice when racing. This is why in our speed training we work so much on correct pacing and why we have specific training paces in our workouts. Every runner who wants to race well must learn how to correctly pace. Practicing various paces in training prepares you to execute correctly in your goal race. This is also why we work on “feel parameters” in training. Specifically, each runner must learn what particular paces actually feel like in the body so that he/she can tune in very precisely to the level of energy that is being expended. This is also a good reason to sometimes train without any music. Training sans earplug distraction allows you to really tune in to your body to assess how much work you’re doing at a given time. Learning to assess whether you are racing at an optimal speed is critically important in reaching your goal times for various race distances. For example, when racing a 10k, the athlete should know that optimal 10k RACE pace is controlled hard work. There is a high level of work going on but not so much that one goes into debt. Learning to finely ride that line between the hardest possible work load while still remaining behind the “red” danger zone of overload will result in that coveted PR.

“Coach Jason [Karp’s] Tip of the Day: If there is one strategy that will enable you to run a better, faster race on that day (disregarding for the moment the training that led up to it), whether it is a mile or a marathon, running even or slightly negative splits is it.

The single biggest mistake runners make when they race is that they start out too fast, way above their fitness level. I see it all the time. They either ignore or do not learn from their training what pace is realistically sustainable for the entire race. The faster you run the first half of a race, the more your muscles rely on oxygen-independent (anaerobic) metabolism to generate energy. With the greater reliance on oxygen-independent metabolism and muscular work comes an increase in muscle and blood acidosis and the accumulation of metabolites that cause fatigue. Whether the race is a mile or a marathon, you can’t put running time in the bank. You will end up losing more time in the end than what you gained by being ahead of schedule in the beginning. No matter how strong your will is, the metabolic condition caused by running too fast too early will force you to slow down during subsequent stages of the race.

The best way to run your fastest possible race and be in control of the race rather than the race controlling you 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 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. Next time you run a race, ask yourself within the first mile, “Can I really hold this pace the entire way?” Be honest with yourself. If the answer is yes, then go for it. If the answer is no, then back off the pace so you can have a better race. The best races come when you are in control of the race the whole time and able to run faster in the closing stages, rather than when the race is controlling you and you’re just hanging on to the pace, waiting for the finish line to come.”

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