OF ALL THE TIPS I’ve shared about race-day performance, the most important in my book is to hone your pacing strategy. It’s the one thing you can control, and it also carries a lot of weight on the journey toward breaking records.
My race day philosophy is to run by feel rather than pace.
One of the reasons I promote this method is because runners tend to get mentally confused and emotional invested in numbers. Let’s say you look down at your watch at kilometre one and see a pace that, in your mind, is way too fast. Your mind will think you’ve made a mistake, which puts a metaphorical weight on your shoulders. Then you see at kilometre two that you’ve slowed down climbing a hill, adding more weight. Rather than tuning into your body and letting it guide you to a personal best, you’re focused on trying to please your mental numbers keeper.
At a recent marathon, I had a runner come up to me at one of my clinics who told me her personal best story. She had dropped her GPS on the way to a half marathon, so she ran the race by feel. She shed a whopping seven minutes off her time. Her quote, “I couldn’t believe how fast my pace was when I looked at the stats post race!” That sums it up in a sentence. Don’t let your “numbers gremlin” hold you back from achieving greatness. Let your body be in the lead and stay tuned in along the way.
The reason this is important is because pace is the outcome of your performance. If it’s a perfectly cool and calm day, your race pace will likely be faster than what you think you can run, and you might end up holding yourself back from seconds or minutes off your best time.
On the other hand, if it’s a brutally hot or windy day, running based on a specific goal pace or by one that’s slower to accommodate for the conditions can lead to a much, much slower finish time and possibly a DNF.
It’s also important to keep things simple. Break the distance into three parts and color code them with yellow, orange, and red effort levels. If you’re not a newbie, you could run 1-8 kilometres in the yellow effort zone (easy and conversational), kilometres 9-16 in the orange zone (moderate effort and comfortably hard), and finish in the red zone (hard, no talking, all business).
When you invest in the second half of the race by holding yourself back during the first half, you’ll likely be able to run faster than you can imagine. It all starts with planning your strategy, running from within, and letting the race unfold along the way.
That said, not every race will be an opportunity for a personal best, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a win. Think about all the elite athletes. They toe the line aiming for the win. If they earn a personal best along the way, that’s a bonus. And most of those records are set on perfect weather days.
Come to the race prepared with your strategy, run it colorfully, and celebrate every finish. It may or may not be the time you want, but every finish is an achievement and an opportunity for growth.