By this point in the season you have most likely finished your first meet and had some time to reflect on your performance, whether it was disappointing or surprisingly successful. Regardless of the result, the majority of the season stands ahead, meaning plenty of time for strategizing and improving week by week, especially your weaknesses. Simply by reflecting on your last race, you can probably recall something that went wrong in the race or even if you did better than expected, at least one area that you can make improvements in. Maybe you were a bit too anxious, shot out of the gates in the first mile, then started to feel heavy fatigue halfway through the race and suffered through a slow second half. Or maybe you ran too conservatively, went out at a comfortable pace but fell way behind and had far too much ground to make up in the last mile. These are both common problems for a season debut even for an experienced runner, so don’t get too wound up if you had trouble with pacing yourself in the first race. This should be your main focus throughout the season as you learn more about your current running ability, strengths and weaknesses and your body’s limits.
When reflecting on and reviewing your last race performance, you should see if any of your coaches were able to time your splits. Coaches often stand at the mile markers and time their athletes to give them an idea of how they are pacing themselves. This actually helps not only at the conclusion of the race in reviewing results but also during the race to give you an idea of whether you should pick up the pace or slow it down a little. If you have these splits available, take a look at them and notice how each portion of the race varies (It is common to use mile splits for a 5K/3.1mi course and kilometer splits for a 3K course. Make note if you notice any considerable increase or drop off in splits throughout the race. Most often you will see that your first part of the race will be the fastest, as you are trying to set a steady pace and establish position in the front of the pack. The final portion of the race can be deceiving, as it always seems like you’re running faster than your split shows because your body is working harder to keep up the same pace. The middle portion of the race is the most intriguing part, as it usually separates the contenders from the pretenders. There are always the competitors who come out of the gate up front but quickly lose steam near the halfway point, and also “sleepers” who conserve their energy only to make a move later on. The middle portion (second mile of a 5K race) often proves to be the most challenging part of the race, as it was for me. The fatigue from my first mile combined with my desire to conserve enough energy resulted in a considerably slower second mile than the first or third.
Setting a successful plan for pacing yourself is much easier than executing in an actual race. There are so many variables during a race including the weather, course conditions, performance of your competition and most of all how you are feeling on that particular day. You can make certain adjustments in the hours leading up to the race such as preparing your equipment; for example, if it’s raining during the day and you’re expecting a muddy course, you might think about putting your metal spikes in for extra traction, if you normally leave them off. Also, judge how you are feeling during the day of the meet and be sure to hydrate yourself. If you are suffering from an illness or injury, consult your coach and/or trainers for advice on your status for that day’s meet. Remember that although it can be painful to sit a race out, running competitively through an injury may very well cause that injury to worsen, meaning more time you would have to miss in the future later in the season when the meets become more crucial to your personal and team’s success. One important tip during a meet day to always remember is to stay properly hydrated, especially this early in the season when temperatures remain fairly hot. Being dehydrated can deplete your energy early on in the race and leave you gasping for air.
Review the results from your first race and start setting some goals, then hit the drawing board and focus on your weaknesses!