Scott Overall on planning your race day tactics

How to get your tactics spot on for the big race

Race tactics are so important if you want to get the most out of the training you have done and translate that to your race performance. Recently I ran a 10km road race in Germany and really messed up my tactics, and this resulted in a performance that simply does not reflect my current shape. But this is how our sport is measured and it is all very well being in amazing shape and smashing all your training, but if you don't put down a marker in a race, you have nothing to show for all your hard work.

Written by Scott Overall

Scott is a British long distance athlete who represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics. His marathon PB is currently 2:10:55.

The race in Germany was 14 laps of Oelde town centre, so each lap was about 700m, almost like a track race. This is the first time I have ever done a race (off the track) with that many laps. It was fun despite the result (I finished in 9th place, 29:52) and it’s a race I would like to do again. With it being 14 laps, pace judgement was crucial and it was very easy to go off too fast because of the crowd being so close to the action and the shortness of the laps. This is exactly what I did and I paid the price in the latter stages of the race. So that is an example of how NOT to do it because even the elite athletes get it wrong sometimes!

planning your race day tactics

Before heading into a race you will know what kind of fitness you have and so you'll also know roughly what time you are expecting to run. With that time in mind, especially on a lapped course, you should work out the splits that will give you your predicted time. On the track this is very easy to do as you'll have a split every 400m and you will always have feedback on how fast you’re running. The most sensible approach is to start off relaxed and build into the race, getting quicker towards the end. Running this way will guarantee you are not hanging on at the end of the race and really slowing down. However, it will also mean that you could finish the race and have a lot more left in tank.

Think of it like this; you have 100% energy at the start of the race so let’s pretend this is a barrel of water. You start running at a nice easy pace and the water will come out very slowly, via a small hole in the barrel. You start running quicker and the hole increases in size. You start sprinting and the water will come pouring out and won't last very long. In an ideal world you want to run out of energy/water just as you cross the finish line. If you do, that would mean you have paced your race just right and you simply would not have been able to run another step. I don’t think this ever happens though! But you just have to get as close to that as possible, and believe me it will take you a few races to work it out.

The more training you do at race pace will help you understand just how fast you should be running during the race. You will start to develop a 'feel' for certain paces and this will help massively when it comes to racing. One thing I hear coaches say a lot is 'run your own race'. What they mean by this is don't get caught up in going off with the leaders or tracking a certain athlete in the race because you want to beat them. You need to focus on your own set pace and stick to it, and if you do, this will often result in a faster time at the end.

You have to race to your strengths when it comes down to the tactics involved in racing someone else rather than going for a time. A lot of the time in championship races the pace is much slower than the athletes are capable of, so the winner is often the person with the best sprint finish rather than the person with the fastest PB. If you know you are the fastest person in the race you need to believe in your ability and don't let it come down to a sprint finish - unless you are confident in your top end speed!  Good luck with the races, and remember, it will take a few races to get it just right.

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