QT: Pace Strategy for the Start of Your Next Race (Best Of-ish)
This post was originally part of Episode 325 released in October of 2016 and is more or less copy and pasted from that post. The audio, however, is a new take on the topic.
Starting too fast during a race is something that can happen to even the most seasoned runner if he or she is not careful.
Shoot, it happens to me even when I’m trying to be careful more often than I’d like to admit.
Surely I’m not the only one guilty of starting a race too fast and then blowing up before the finish, am I?
Start Line Environment: A Recipe for Disaster?
No matter the distance of the race, the starting line is full of nervous energy and excitement leading up to the race.
Depending on the particulars of the race, each runner has been training for this moment for weeks or months or YEARS!
As the race time gets closer and closer, the excitement/nervous energy only increases. (Boyle’s Law, anyone?)
The start can be tough for runners because of the pressure they place on themselves, but there is plenty going on in the external environment that makes starting too fast easy to do.
Races big and small, long and short, have at least one thing in common: spectators.
Not every race will have a bunch of spectators, but the ones that are there are more than likely going to be watching the start.
Having a bunch of people yelling and screaming and cheering and holding signs at the start can make it hard for a runner to stay focused on starting slowly.
Not all races have loads of start line festivities, but most will at least have music blasting through the PA system.
Lots of up-tempo music is great for helping you power through at mile 19, but before the start, it can be a serious problem!
And never mind the theatrics of a Disney race: fireworks for each wave, announcers/hosts pumping up the crowd, and appearance by the Mouse himself can be enough to make any runner ready to sprint at the start of the race.
That’s all well and good for the first quarter of a mile, but that doesn’t exactly set you up for success for the rest of your race.
In our heads, we all (hopefully!) know that we need to run our own race.
That said, get around several hundred or a few thousand runners at the start of the race and there is a very real chance that the herd mentality takes over and you’ll do everything you can to keep up with the crowd.
If they are running a minute faster than your goal pace, you’ll be running a minute faster than your goal pace.
If you don’t catch yourself going to fast right away, you’ll be well on your way to blow-upsville before you know it. And once you do catch yourself, it will already be too late.
Race Hard, Have a Pace Strategy
I love the environment, internal and external, at the start of the race as much as the next runner, even if it does make starting too fast a potential issue.
If you’re looking to really race hard in hopes of nailing a certain time goal, you have to navigate the start of a race with the utmost care.
If you start too fast, your odds of blowing up mid-race increase by the second.
But if you start too slow, you’re putting yourself behind the 8-ball in terms of executing the rest of your plan to perfection and still having enough gas in the tank to overcome your slow start to meet your goal.
I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but in many cases, it is a very fine line between starting too fast and starting too slow.
Walking that fine line requires an oft-overlooked component of racing: a start-of-race pace strategy.
Pace Strategy Tips/Suggestions
You can’t guarantee a good finish to your next race by having a sound pace strategy, but I can pretty much promise you will blow up before the finish if you end up starting too fast.
What does a sound pace strategy look like? I’m glad you asked!
Script the Start–And Stick to the Script!
If you’re not going into a race with a distinct plan in place for how you want to attack the course, you are setting yourself up for failure.
Believe me, I’m a pro at setting myself up for race day failure.
But just having a plan for the race isn’t good enough when it comes to the possibility of starting too fast, you really need to rigidly script the start of the race and SITCK TO IT!
There are lots of times in a race where it’s ok to run by how you feel, but the beginning of a race is not one of those times.
Instead, have a set plan in place as far as what pace you will run, and for how long, before you settle into the pace you need to be at in order to achieve your goal for the race.
Give Yourself a Buffer:
When it comes to deciding what that early pace is going to be, I always give myself (and my coaching clients) a bit of a buffer at the start.
For example, if your goal is to run a 2 hour half marathon, your average pace per mile needs to be 9:06. But we don’t start the race trying to be at a 9:06, instead, we will start the race with a goal pace of 9:25 for the first mile, 9:15 for the second mile, and by the time we get to the 5k mark, I’d like to be settled into a pace between 9:00 and 9:06.
This way, if the starting line excitement gets to you and you speed up a bit at the beginning, instead of running in the sub-8:30 range if we were aiming for a 9:06 pace from the beginning you’ll be running in the high 8s. That’s not fast enough to cause a big blow-up, provided you’ve been training well and you’re in the shape required to run a 2 hour half.
Watch Your Watch
I’m not a big fan of encouraging runners to pay meticulous attention to their Garmins during workouts or races, but the one exception that I do make is at the start of a race.
If you’re the least bit worried about starting too fast, keep a close eye on your watch until the starting line buzz wears off and you can settle in for the rest of the race.
Line Up Appropriately
Lining up ahead of your projected pace range is a big pet peeve of mine, but if you’re willingly doing it not only are you being incredibly rude but you’re also pushing your luck.
If you find yourself in a wave of runners that are appreciably faster than you, you may not have a choice but to keep up with the pack or be trampled. (Not even kidding!)
Seriously, do yourself a favor and line up where you are supposed to based on your projected pace. Not only is it the right thing to do from an etiquette perspective, but it will also help to prevent you from starting too fast.
The Risk of Starting Too Fast Never Goes Away Completely
If you’re racing hard, the risk of starting too fast can never be eliminated.
That said if you run your race intelligently you can definitely push your limits and minimize your risk of blowing up before the finish line.
But when you screw up your start, and you will if you race often enough, don’t chalk it up as a complete loss. Learn from what happened so that the next time you can race even smarter and avoid making the same mistake again!
The Pace Series
This wraps up the three-part quick tip series on pacing. If you missed either of the previous two quick tips, make sure you check them out!
- In part one, we talked about monitoring your pace during the course of a race or long run.
- And in part two, we looked at improving your pace aka running faster.
Do You Have Any Stories of Start-of-Race Pace Strategy Issues in Your Past? If so, Please Share!!!
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