Coach Mike Mead

September 2010

Tips for Racing Success

I do not race much anymore since my coaching takes precedence over my personal running and racing. But during my racing days I learned a few things that worked well for me that I would like to pass on to those wanting better racing results.

The first thing I learned about racing was when to eat before racing. For me, I learned to give myself at least five hours between a meal and a race. While racing in high school and college, it was a relative easy way to control my food intact. But when it came to road racing, it was a challenge since most road racing is done before 9 a.m., and it usually meant I went into many races on an empty stomach.

I believe that at least five hours lead time between eating and racing – as well as training – gives one optimum time for food to settle and not interfere with racing effort. I also learned to avoid certain foods, like dairy, meats, fried or greasy foods at least 12 hours before racing.

Another important aspect to successful racing is a good warm-up routine. I usually allowed myself a minimum of 45 minutes before the scheduled gun time for my warm-up. Depending on the weather and race distance, I usually ran for 15-20 minutes at an easy pace, then do some stretches, make a visit to the restroom, get into my racing shoes and get in six or eight strides within five minutes before the start. If a race start lagged behind, I’d continue with some strides off the start line until instructed to get on the line.

I always used my racing shoes strictly for racing. Unless I was breaking in a pair of new racing shoes, I only used them in races, not practice. I usually did not warm-up in my racing shoes until I did my strides. I also always double-tied my shoe laces so that they did not come undone halfway through the race.

Another race tip is do not get on the front line of a race if you cannot average for two miles what race officials may ask what you expect to run for the first mile. For example, if they’re looking for folks who can run five minutes for the first mile, truly you should be able to run 10 minutes for the first two miles. A major road race is no place for average runners on the starting line clogging up the start. However, in a race field of less than 200 runners, one can get away with starting on or near the line as long as you do not interfere with the fast folks.

Speaking of the first mile, do not go out in a blaze of glory in that first leg. You might get away with it in a 5K, but in longer distance races you need to hold back in the first mile. The general rule of thumb is your first mile should be about 10-15 seconds faster than your average mile pace for the entire racing distance.

Once the field thins out in a race, unless it’s something like the Peachtree Road Race, run the tangents of the course as much as possible. That is, take the most direct route from point-to-point on the course. When you get to turns, take them a little wide as you approach so that you can cut the turn as close and fast as you possibly can.

When you are running with someone for a period of time during a race, it’s best to run directly behind them than beside them. This way you have a better sense of the pace and if it slows, you can work on throwing a surge around your competitor and try moving on to the next one. If you run beside them, you have less sense of the pace. On windy days, running behind a competitor will protect you from the wind until you’re ready to make your move.

When it comes to hilly courses, take the uphills steady and use gravity for the downhills. As you make your approach to the finish line, be sure you do not begin your finishing kick too soon or you’ll run out of gas before the line. With that said, do not start your kick too late or you will not fully capitalize on your effort.

My last tip is downright sneaky and involves a little practice and acting. I believe I used it only once my whole racing life, but it is a little inventive. This works best in the middle of a 10K or longer. If you want to mess with a competitor’s head, get directly behind them and begin breathing like you may not make it to the next mile, let alone the finish line. I’m talking like gasping for your last bit of air! After a mile or so of this, if your competitor doesn’t try leaving you, you should be able to leave them since they want to be as far away from you possible. They’ll wonder, “Am I ever going to shake this wheezer?”

Those are some of the things I’ve learned in my years of racing. I wish you the best on your next racing effort!