No matter the cause or the reason behind a poor performance or racing time, if you trained consistently, then you must believe, deep down, that your fitness level improved over the summer. Going off that, it’s time to devise a simple practice and race strategy, something that can initiate a sense of control and confidence within your performances.
Starting with something simple, recall how much time was spent attempting to hit goal paces throughout summer training with Whisper. There was a reason we used the cones during nearly every practice, separating them by 200-meters, to learn cadence and rhythm. Cadence is something that you can control and work from at practice.
Breaking down your goal.
If your goal is to run a 22-minute 5k, you can estimate a 7-minute mile pace will get you there. However, let’s take a calculated look at a 22-minute 5k, similar to what I would do if we were sitting side by side, creating a goal for your next race. Whatever the goal, do the same math when dividing and multiplying minutes, seconds, etc.
- Divide 1,320 by 50 (because there are fifty 100m dashes in a 5k) to find time/100m, which is 26.4 seconds per 100m (1,320 ÷ 50 = 26.4 seconds/100m).
- This means your pace for a 5k goal of 22-minutes is 26.4-seconds per 100 meters. I typically prefer to set my pace for every 200m, in which case this number would be 52.8.
The next number is likely the most important. It’s the 400m, but more importantly, it’s how you internalize the 400m. If you think you’re running 1:45.6, technically, you are right. However, you’ve already let the race get away from you. Though it is important to have checkpoints to ensure accuracy and to make the arithmetic manageable, the mile mark in a 5k is the optimal time to do so. Therefore, it is more important to “stay within yourself” by, rather than thinking 1:45.6 is your 400m goal, think of 52.8-seconds is your 200m goal, even though you might still be looking at 1:45.6 on your watch. It’s a rhythm thing. Lock-in at your goal pace and do your best to not deviate. Yet.
Once you have gained confidence that you can run your 5k at your calculated pace, then you can turn your pace into a race. This can be done by, when the gun sounds, staying within yourself, hitting your first 200m goal pace, then your target mile, 7:02.4, then your next target mile, 7:02.4 (or 14:04.8), continuing this pace for another half mile, 3:31.2 (or 17:36), and then racing to the finish with negative splits.
Things to consider:
- Take time to write your race goals, calculate your pace goals, and practice your pacing goals during interval workouts at practice. It is best to share these goals with your head coach, the one with the timer, so they can provide extra support.
- When you have completed your race, and have had time to reflect on the factors that worked and other factors that might need to be honed, you can then begin advancing further practice and race goals.
- Knowing where you are at is important. Before any race, know the checkpoints (1/2 mile, 1 mile, 1.5 mile, 2-mile, etc.). Walk and/or jog the course using GPS to familiarize yourself with the checkpoints. In the state of Washington, WIAA prohibits runners from wearing GPS watches during races, however you may wear a timing watch. Knowing the checkpoints and being able to pace yourself, will allow you to better dictate your performance and cultivate a sense of confidence in your running.
- You’ll have uphill’s and downhills, but in the end, it all zeros out (unless your finish point is at a vastly different location than your starting point). Account for the ups and downs by allowing some wiggle room in your checkpoint times.
There are a number of useful racing strategies, but for young runners, learning pace, rhythm, and cadence is a very useful tool when learning how to run. Even with that said, relying on your watch too heavily can take the race out of the competition, because you could become too reliant on pacing. Sometimes you have to take off the gloves, or in this case, the watch. If you feel you have cultivated the discipline to stay within yourself and not get overzealous too soon, then ridding the watch temporarily might help. This is something to practice at practice as well.
Finally, have fun. Regardless of your numerical goal(s), your number one goal should always be to have fun. Running should be a lifelong sport that can take you places, be performed almost anywhere, can be done by yourself or with others, and is something that will always be waiting for you. Crunching the numbers is merely a way to ensure you are squeezing out all of your potential. Once you have a positive sensation of pace, it’s time to race and have fun. All of which takes time to hone.