What Does it Take to Race Well: Part III – A Race Plan

Race Planning


Racing well is a goal that many of us have. Whether you want to place in your age group or finally hit that PR in your favorite, local, half marathon, racing well is one of the things that many of us are working towards. Previously I talked about training and race day logistics. Today I will discuss having and executing a race plan on race day.

A great race plan

A couple of weeks ago I went to the USATF Outdoor championships. It was a blast seeing some of the best athletes in the world compete for spots on the US team that will head to London for this year’s IAAF World Whampionships. One of the highlights of the meet was the Men’s 5000 meters, won by Paul Chelimo. Chelimo clearly had a race plan and he executed it perfectly. Chelimo went out in 61 on his first lap. For those of you not familiar with the 5k on the track, that is a pretty fast first lap. I thought Chelimo would come back to the pack but he didn’t. He kept up the pace running as slow as 65 per lap and closing in 59 to win the race going away and setting a new meet record while he did It. Chelimo executed his plan perfectly. No one else in the field was prepared to go out that fast or sustain that pace for the race. He raced really well because he had a great plan and executed it extremely well.

In order to come up with a plan you need to a have a goal in mind. Ask yourself what you intend to accomplish by doing this race. Is is running a certain time? Is it beating your age group rival? Is it simply finishing?  What ever you are trying to accomplish on race day it helps to have a plan on how you’re going to do it.

My Recent Race

When I sat down to craft my race plan for my recent half marathon, I had a time goal in mind. I wanted to break 1:40. Using a calculator app I know that 1:40 is 7:37 pace for a half marathon. Looking at the race course it’s pretty flat and mostly on a gravel trail. I know from my training that I run a bit faster on gravel for whatever reason. I also looked at past finish times and noted that the race is pretty small (160 people) and that running a sub 1:40 would likely put me in good position to place in the top three in my age group and top ten overall. Having all that in mind I worked out what my cumulative times would be at each mile of the race. I then picked out three milestones to focus on, 4, 8, and 12 miles. I focused on the cumulative time I had to be at for each milestone. These are the times I need to hit at those markers during the race. For example,  I needed to be at 30 minutes at 4 miles and about 1 hour at 8 miles. I like this better than pace because constantly checking my pace slows me down. Just being prepared to check my watch at three points I can tell myself, “steady as she goes”,  “ease up”,  “or pick it up a little” for this next section of the race.

What ended up happening was completely different. I kept checking my watch every quarter mile or so. This did not help me. I was on track for the first four miles and after that I quickly realized that my fitness was lacking. I don’t think my plan was bad it was just not appropriate for my actual fitness level. For a plan to be successful it has to be aligned with your fitness level. I simply did not have the stamina to maintain my goal pace for the entire race. So during the race I adjusted my goal to finish under 1:50. I did this on the fly although you might want to have a B or C goal in the back of your mind in case something strange happens on race day. I made my adjusted goal by running 1:48:32, finishing fourth in my age group and 16th overall. Not a bad showing but not a particularly good race. What I do know now though is where my fitness is as I go into marathon training. This is invaluable.

The Takeaway

Every race will not go as planned and you can learn something from every race experience. In fact for most of us we may have only a handful of great races throughout our running lives. The important thing is to learn something about yourself as an athlete from each and every race. For me, I know that if I want to be at my best for a half marathon I need to complete some race specific long runs and more tempo runs to improve my lactate threshold. Quite simply my training was insufficient for the outcome I wanted (this is where having an objective eye on my training, via a coach, would be super helpful) . Always ask yourself what do I need to change about my training, my race day logistics, or my race plan to better accomplish my goal? What will I change in the next raining cycle or in my preparation to improve my result? This will ensure that when you go into the next race you can make the proper adjustments and get closer to your goal.

Enjoy the run

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