Race Strategy

What is your race strategy? Don’t have one? All cross country runners should before a race.

What are the best tips for a great race strategy for cross country? Number one is they hand out the medals at the finish line. Whatever you do during the race should be designed to get you to that finish line as fast as possible.

A cross country race is long. Not as long as a marathon, but long enough that you have to run smart. You can’t expect to be successful if you don’t have a plan when you toe the line. I will outline some great tips, and then explain them further below.

  1. Don’t go out fast! They don’t hand out the medals at the first turn. Smart runners move up during a race. They don’t fade.
  2. Run an even pace. Don’t try to run a six minute first mile, if your average mile pace is eight minutes.
  3. Run the hills smartUse the hills to pass people. Do this at the top of a hill, and at the bottom.
  4. Know the course. Get a race map and know where you are going.
  5. Be ready physically and mentally. Running hard in practice is only half the battle. Are you ready mentally?

Are you sticking around for the detailed race strategy explanations? Good. You’ll have an added advantage over your opponents. Knowledge is power. You are lucky by the way to be out there competing. Don’t take these days for granted. Make the most of your opportunities now!

1. First off, don’t blast off the start line. It will do you no good. You will burn off a ton of energy and get no pay off at the finish line. My old coach said that for every second you go out too hard, you lose three later in the race. Maybe you go out in the first 400 meters about ten seconds faster than your race pace. That might cost you 30 seconds at the finish line.

2. Next up is pacing yourself. I had the chance to run in some big college meets. One meet we ran with UW-Wisconsin, which is a perennial power in Division 1 NCAA cross country. Our team was running right along side their runners for the first mile of the race. Right after the mile mark, it was like a switch went off. They went, and we faded back. The Wisconsin runners didn’t do anything special. They kept the same pace. We slowed down.

One trick to running well is that you have to feel like you pick up the pace to stay on the same pace. Sounds weird right? It’s true. It is easy to run the first part fast because you have a lot of energy. After the first part of the race, you feel winded and naturally slow down. You need to consciously make an effort to pick up the pace.

3. Running the hills smartinvolves using them to your advantage. Hills are obstacles for other runners, not you. Go up a hill smooth and steady. When you get towards the top, pick up the pace. This way you get more bang for your buck. When you sprint up the hill and slow down at the top, you wasted a whole lot of energy. You won’t improve your time this way. Stay steady up the hill, and switch gears at the top. You’ll fly by the hill chargers with ease. By the way, that is me when I ran in college. Oh, the glory days. I was a dominant hill runner because of the tips I just listed.

Down hills can work to your advantage too. The key is extending the hill. Near the bottom of a hill really stretch out your stride. Get on your toes and go fast! Use the hills momentum to keep running fast on flat ground. You won’t burn up much energy, and you’ll pass a lot of people.

4. Do you know the course?Get a course map from your coach before the day of the race. Study it. Where is the mile, the two mile? When will you start your kick? These are all things you should plan in advance for your race strategy.

I was lucky enough to be on a great high school team. My senior year, I had a strategy that I would make a big move from the 1/2 mile to the 1 1/2 mile mark. I made my surge and got into great position, but I didn’t see the 1 1/2 mile mark. I kept moving up and then saw the 2 mile mark. That race strategy worked better than planned! I have to say though. It is one thing to have a strategy. It is entirely another thing to carry it out.

5. That leads me to my next tip. Be mentally prepared. You should rehearse your race strategy in your mind. Do this at night when you are about to go to sleep. Think about what you are going to do. When will you move up? Who will you be running with? How will you feel? Think positive thoughts. Your mind can be trained just like your body. You will almost be able to do things automatically come race day.

Mentally rehearse a race strategy so you aren’t just out there running. It is easier to make decisions in a race if you already thought about what might happen. One thing I always tell my runners is, “Always yes.” When you think to yourself, “should I go with this runner now? Should I pick up the pace? Should I start my kick?” The answer is, “always yes.” Now only pick up the pace after the first mile. Remember, run the start smart and on pace. Some sarcastic individuals will take this phrase and twist it to “Should I slow down?” This article isn’t for you then. You have to stay positive, even when you are feeling the pain during a tough race. If you want to go faster, the answer is always the same during the middle or towards the end of a race. Yes, it’s time to give it your all.

Are you ready now? Those are five great racing tips. Use them to your advantage. The competition is always looking for an edge. Do you have the edge now? Plan, practice and execute your race strategy.

– Written by David Tiefenthaler

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– Cross Country Running Tips
– Cross Country Race Strategy
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