You are viewing runners

Recent entries Friends entries Calendar About the community Previous 10 Previous 10 Next entries Next entries
The Original Live Journal Runners Club - Racing a 5km At Your Best
travelogger
runners
travelogger
Add to Memories
Share
Racing a 5km At Your Best
Running a great 5km race requires a lot more than months of training and proper tapering. Many people (including myself) have blown a race when they were in peak condition, for various reasons. I want to go through a few of the more common ones, and also touch on some of the mental aspects that many people don't even bother with.

Let's start with the most important one:

Even Splits means running each mile or kilometre at the same pace throughout the race. This can be very hard to do, and there's two distinct reasons. The first is that the act of tapering before the event has left the runner with fresh legs, which is a strange feeling after weeks, if not months, of hard training on legs that are almost always in some state of tiredness.

A proper taper makes that feeling go away, but the result can be that the runner falsely believes he or she is in better shape than they are. They make the error of running at the same effort level they felt when running 1km intervals at 5km race pace a few weeks back. What they forget is that they did those intervals without tapering, and in a non-race atmosphere.

When you run your next 5km race, remember that that after a proper taper you should feel as though you are running 10km race pace or even a little slower for that first kilometre. It should feel reasonably easy - or easier than you would expect. I know I have tapered right when I feel like I could even have a short conversation with the runner next to me in the first kilometre of a 5km race. There should definitely be no huffing and puffing, yet!

The second reason for going out too fast is over-excitement. It gets to the best of us, and sometimes it's very hard to resist. At the start, I always try to disassociate from the event a little, and play detachment tricks on myself (more on that later in this post). I have run some of my best races by finding a quiet place to relax in the final few minutes before the gun goes off. I will show up early and talk to people, go for my easy warm up, stretch, and then sit somewhere and do absolutely nothing for the last 10-15 minutes, while I start preparing to relax for the race, and not be pumped up. Getting all tense and pumped up will tighten muscles, and tight muscles don't work very well. I will spend the time sitting down and mentally relaxing every muscle in my body, starting from my feet and working upward, ending with all the muscles in my face, so that it is expressionless. By the time the race is getting ready to start, I feel completely at ease, relaxed, and know I will definitely not go out too fast. As I head to the start line, I avoid talking to anyone, or thinking about anything other than maintain the totally relaxed, loose feeling.


Just before the race begins, I will do some strides, which are short and easy accelerations to race pace over about 10-15 seconds. You've probably seen other runners do this, and maybe wondered why.

The reason for strides is because you want your heart rate to rise *just before* the event, to minimize the shock of abruptly running at a demanding pace. The body is more prepared, and it becomes easier to comfortably fall into the proper pace without a nasty initial period of heavy breathing. Strides should be short and smooth, and literally done in the final few minutes before the start (under 3). Anything earlier than that is a waste of energy, and the wrong time to be getting the heart going other than your warm-up jog much earlier, which at this point you have obviously completely recovered from. If you can't move from your position in the start pack, run in place a little in the final two minutes. Remember when doing strides or running in place to keep the relaxed focus you worked on earlier! You aren't getting hyped up; all you are doing in making your heart beat faster. It sounds like they are the same thing, but they are definitely not. It's quite easy to stay very relaxed while striding, since the effort level is minimal (10-15 seconds per "stride").

As the race starts, I allow myself to think of nothing but running form. The goal of the first kilometre is twofold: hitting the correct split time, and using the least amount of energy to get there. The first kilometre is very important - it is the easiest one to run, and because of this, it is the easiest one to save energy on by remaining loose and maintaining perfect form.

Think of the first kilometre as the one in which you "cheat" by trying to get to the beginning of the second kilometre by expending as little energy as possible, through excellent form and total relaxation. I will often let my direct competitors get a couple seconds ahead of me during this period. The real race hasn't started in my mind, since I don't feel like I'm racing while in my relaxed state.

As the race progresses, it becomes more of a challenge to maintain form and not tighten up. This is especially why it's important to make staying loose the number one priority early in the race. If someone at your ability level is all tense and worried, or maybe overly excited, you will use less energy than they will in the crucial early stages. it will pay off in the end.

No matter how fit you are and how well you maintain good, relaxed and loose form, things start to get tough pretty quickly in a 5km race. For me, I find the point where it starts to become a real challenge is about 3 to 3.5km. This is where the wheels slowly but surely start coming off, and when most runners first start thinking of the finish line. It's also about the point when the best runners begin to separate themselves from the pack they were running in, as the rest begin to slow down. This occurs at every ability level. You see it for 15 minute 5km runners and over 30 minute 5km runners. The people that remained loose and concentrated on form are rewarded with a stronger end stage.

When you reach this stage, here's a few things to do in order to minimize discomfort and maintain pace:

Firstly, shorten your stride length and quicken your turnover. Watch any elite runner at the end of a race - this is what they do, and you should, too. It's the best way to keep from lagging. A good way to do this is to run as if you are sneaking up on someone, and don't want to make a lot of noise. The muscles in your legs are filling up with lactic acid, a by-product of oxygen burning. This makes them stiffen up and not work as well. Don't fight it - adjust your stride to make up for this change.

Another thing to remember at this stage in the race is to completely relax your facial muscles. You probably want to twist it up into a look of agony (I know I do!), but it's only going to make the rest of the race even harder for you. Relax the face completely, and try to maintain an expression of complete boredom. I guarantee this will help you run a little faster, by both keeping muscle tension down and giving your mind something to think about other than "I WANT TO STOP RIGHT NOW!" I've actually spent the entire end of a race thinking of nothing but keeping a blank expression on my face. It's hard to do, but not as hard as focusing on the agony of every step.

Shoulders are the other culprit. You aren't running a sprint-distance race, so there's no need to clench your fists and run with rigid arms. A trick my old coach told me that works incredibly well is to just remember to relax your shoulders. The reason is that it's almost impossible for a runner to have tense arms or hands if they have relaxed shoulders.

So, you are 1.5km from the finish, and after spending the first 3 to 3.5km of the race working on even splits, relaxation, and perfect form, you are starting to really feel the effort and are now shifting to a shorter stride with a quicker turnover, and thinking about relaxing the shoulders and facial muscles. Don't allow the race details to enter your mind now - the end will come when it comes, and there is no point thinking about anything but the above-mentioned techniques. You will find that if you do this, the effort becomes easier, because you are working on things that are in your control, rather than thinking about things that are not, such as where the race ends, or where that damn 4th kilometre marker is!

Internalize your thoughts - focus on the things you can do to improve the way you feel without having to slow down. Here's where the race becomes very mental. Don't think about the discomfort as a negative aspect! Think about it as a normal thing that occurs from running. It means you are working hard. It's expected, and you knew it would happen. It's just a routine part of the race that you work on, such as stride rate or relaxing your shoulders. There is no reason to panic about such a normal occurrence, although it is admittedly uncomfortable.

You are now nearing the end. There's about a half mile to go, and it's long enough that if you aren't careful, you can ruin the effort you gave over the prior 4.2km by giving in to fatigue and slowing down. Here's where disassociation really comes into play. Negative thoughts start to enter your mind at this point, and you need a strategy to effortlessly make them go away. I have a few games that I have made up over the years that work well for me - maybe you can try them at your next event. They may sound silly, but nothing is worse than dreading every step and not being able to think about anything but the agony you are putting yourself through.

My favorite disassociation technique is pretending I am in a movie. I am watching this movie in my mind. It is about a runner who is running at his limits, but hangs on heroically and finishes strong, even though it's clear he is working extremely hard. As I watch the movie, I feel incredibly motivated by his effort. What a great runner! I wish I could dig that deep! He is using every cell in his body to go faster and catch the person in front of him, and it looks like he's going to do it! The finish line is in sight, and I know he is going to collapse at the end - I am mesmerized by it all, and in my mind I can see all the various dramatic camera angles.

The above technique is a great one - it brings back similar feelings I have felt from watching great races, and prevents me from feeling negative about my discomfort. In my mind, I am a world-class elite runner who's face shows nothing as he races to the finish.

If you want to try something a little less dramatic, I sometimes like to focus on a spot on the back of the runner's shoe in front of me (if there is one). I'll concentrate on maintaining the visual attachment with this spot. It doesn't have to be a shoe; I have used the timing chip on their ankle before. The point is to force yourself to think of anything but your discomfort. It doesn't have to have meaning. you could try counting the amount of people watching the race near the end, one by one, or even counting your footsteps (1,2,3...1,2,3...1,2,3). You could try thinking about the great race report you are going to be typing up on runners later on, in which you are so proud to describe your strong finish!

One last thing I always think about if all else fails is how after almost every race I have ever done, I feel like I could have gone faster, only a minute after recovering. Almost everyone feels that way. The end of the race is very hard, but in a way it's easy if you realize it's almost over, and that everyone else feels as bad as you. It is very easy to forget that and feel sorry for yourself, as if you're the only one suffering. The goal at the end of a race is control that suffering better than the people around you - keep in mind that they feel like giving up, too. It's very hard for everyone. Don't think that the person in front of you is too strong to pass when you are within sight of the finish. It's likely that if you give it a shot (even if you're insanely tired), they will be intimidated by your effort and back off. This is why I like passing people at the top of hills - it's a similar strategy: hit 'em when they feel weak, even if you do, too.

Learn to relax and disassociate rather than tense up and obsess over your discomfort, and you will run a better race!
Comments
0nefivetwo From: 0nefivetwo Date: July 30th, 2008 01:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, thank you for this thorough and insightful post. I've yet to run my first race, but I am going to bookmark this and make sure I read it before each one I run in the future. Excellent!
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 02:21 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks - I'm glad you found it helpful!
yzztik From: yzztik Date: July 30th, 2008 01:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Fantastic advice and post. I'll keep this handy for my next race. Thanks!
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 02:22 am (UTC) (Link)
No problem, and thank YOU for taking the time to read my post! :)
feeble_knees From: feeble_knees Date: July 30th, 2008 02:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Awesome!!! Love the relaxation techniques, I get so tense and nervous before a race, ANY race that I work myself up needlessly, and end up with stomach issues. I like your focus tips, and disassociation tips - WONDERFUL! Thanks, I need to read this again before my next race, not just the 5Ks!

In fact, I think I'll be using some of these techniques on some of my training runs, I really need to pull myself out...
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 02:23 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm really glad - you are a good runner, and I love hearing about your training and races. :)
feeble_knees From: feeble_knees Date: July 30th, 2008 02:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! Wish there was more training and racing to talk about these days. :( Seriously, would not have made it this far without your vast knowledge and advice!!
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 03:00 am (UTC) (Link)
awww, that's incredibly sweet of you to say, but I know you would have done just as well. You are a really determined person who obviously works hard to get the results you want. :)

50 mile weeks are no joke - well over 90% of runners will never see one.
feeble_knees From: feeble_knees Date: July 30th, 2008 05:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I have to admit they are REALLY difficult!

I'd like to get there again, I'm pumping up my motivation for it!!!
feeble_knees From: feeble_knees Date: July 31st, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
You know, I just wanted to THANK YOU again for this comment - after a really lazy couple months, with severe lack of motivation, I have mulled this over for the last few days, and I am READY to get back to it! I *want* those 50 mile weeks (even just temporarily!), and I *want* to do well at the next marathon in October!

So thanks again for your encouragement...I'm hoping to be up to 50 miles again within 3 weeks. :)
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 31st, 2008 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
No problem - good luck in October!! :)
feeble_knees From: feeble_knees Date: July 31st, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you!!
ava_bee From: ava_bee Date: July 30th, 2008 02:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Going into favorites! I have a 5k a week from Saturday, and I'll definitely be re-reading this post again and again. (I'm really bad with the fist-clenching, tensing up, etc.) Thank you!
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 02:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Good luck at your race!!
ava_bee From: ava_bee Date: July 30th, 2008 02:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! I'm pretty excited. :)
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 02:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I can imagine! Make sure to remember to forget about the excitement just before the race, though. ;-)
valkyri From: valkyri Date: July 30th, 2008 02:34 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you, that's awesome.

I've never run in a race before, but one day I will. I find when I'm running and I'm getting near home - I have a loop I do to complete my distance, but I could easily turn before it and go home. It's so tempting to not do that last half mile on many days. What keeps me in is my music. It's the same as you suggest - dissociation. There are some songs that are just so much better than others, my favourite ones with a good beat which I "sing" inside my head belting it out like I'm on stage in front of a million fans. They can take me to the end when my legs can't.

I'll definitely try to keep those things in mind when I do finally enter a race. I've thought of the problem of not having my heart rate up, as the first bit is always the hardest for me and I know this is why and I wondered how best to "warm up" before a race, when I can't afford to be breathing heavy and struggling in the first 1/4 mile.

Thanks again!
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 02:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm really happy to help, and I'm glad you find my post useful!
runninggirl77 From: runninggirl77 Date: July 30th, 2008 03:40 am (UTC) (Link)
This is excellent advice, from start to finish! I love the disassociation techniques especially. Even if we've heard it before, or seen it happen in races, it is still worth reviewing (especially since I'm sure others found new insights here, just as I did). Thanks for the post; it's going into the favorite memories section.
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you liked it!
shayenne From: shayenne Date: July 30th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for another great post. I've just seen the race pics from the 5k I ran last Sunday (where somehow, I have no idea HOW, I smashed my PB by 3 minutes). But in the race photos I can see my clenched fists and tortured expression. Next time, I will try your techniques and see if I can improve even more. :)
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm sure you will - every little bit helps, and a lot of it is simply learning to relax. :)
tar_miriel From: tar_miriel Date: July 30th, 2008 10:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for such a complete and sensible strategy!

Would you be able to briefly compare how to adapt this to 10k? A 1/2 marathon? -- I'm running 10k Saturday, after which I will run 4 easy and call that my last long run prior to my half iron in 2 weeks.

I'm pretty sure I can pr at the 10k, based on a recent 5k training run and I also want to pr the half marathon against my (standalone) half M time 18 month ago.

I usually pace against my HRM, gauging where I want to be compared to aerobic threshold, along w/ feedback from intermediate splits.
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
There no real difference for a 10k, other than the fact that the changes occur more gradually. The last km of a 10k especially feels the same as a 5k - I know it does to me!

I think that when you get into half and full marathons, the biggest issue is learning to cope with the mini-bad periods that happen to almost everyone, even in a good race.
tar_miriel From: tar_miriel Date: July 30th, 2008 06:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! That's what I was thinking with the 10k and yeah I have reasonable strategies for dealing with the bad periods -- miles 8-11 are where I've felt very ground-down. The rest of the 1/2 I know I'm ok for but that part sure can be hard.
tealight_rookie From: tealight_rookie Date: July 30th, 2008 11:04 am (UTC) (Link)
This is a wonderful post. I love, love, love some of your dissociation tales. I do similar things. :)

I'm going to read your post on form, too, as it's the next thing I want to work on.

Thanks!
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
No problem, and I am happy that you enjoyed it. :)
battyhelen From: battyhelen Date: July 30th, 2008 12:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Brilliant! Thanks for taking the time to post this. I am only a beginner, and a lot of the things you talk about in races are happening to me as I try to work on increasing the length of time I am running. Each outing is a challenge at the moment, and I am sure I can use your tips to move me forward.
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 04:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree that for newcomers, there's often a lot of the same "physical-anxiety" issues that occur to more experienced runners in a race. It's especially useful for new runners to always keep reminding themselves that the uncomfortable feeling of pushing further is totally normal, and part of the experience - not a negative thing. Even the most elite runners feel the same way in a race. Think of it as useful training to learn how to cope when it happens to you in a race environment. :)
battyhelen From: battyhelen Date: July 30th, 2008 12:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
PS: Can you put this in the memories section, please?
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I did, under "5km Racing Strategies." :)
ppsassygrl From: ppsassygrl Date: July 30th, 2008 12:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the advice! I especially liked the relaxation techniques; I have a tendency to get super nervous before races and I start to psych myself out.
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 04:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you found some information in my post that is useful for you! :)

I used to get nervous before races, too. Even now, I still have this problem after the winter, when I am entering my first race of the season after months of base-building.
runpatrickrun From: runpatrickrun Date: July 30th, 2008 01:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
favorited
saikoutron From: saikoutron Date: July 30th, 2008 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Awesome post!

I must say, however, that when I got to the bit about keeping a blank face all I could hear in my head was "ZATOPEK! ZATOPEK!" before laughing myself off my chair!

It's hilarious because I have this photo on file of Zatopek with his face all cringed up, wait, it's this one here:

Photobucket

...and I had a mental image of this in my head back when I was doing tempo/interval runs in preparation for my marathon. Feeling awful(and definitely looking it), I kept repeating to myself, "It's okay, world class althletes looks like this - Zatopek looks like this!"

Ah, the silly things I'd do to get me through the hard times.

But yeah, great post, I liked how much you emphasized on staying relaxed, which probably helps one's form more than it does thinking about it(is my back okay? arms swinging too high?). Definitely something to go over and over again.

Thanks a lot!
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought someone would bring up Zatopek!! He was an enigma, for sure. But to also be sure, 99% of elite athletes look amazing relaxed when under intense physical strain. Even Radcliffe, with her strange form and eyes that keep moving up and down over and over again looks pretty relaxed despite all this. The Kenyans and Ethiopians look like they are meditating - they are amazing at relaxation in race environments.
clintpatty From: clintpatty Date: July 30th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Saving this one, thanks.
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Nice! I'm glad you liked it. :)
From: aroset Date: July 30th, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've now run two 5km events. I'm still a run/walker but even the mental tips are great. I actually, like you, imagine that sort of stuff near the end because I'm really pushing myself. My last 5km I cut my PB down by over a minute, and I kept running when I was sure there was nothing left in me but when you look in and mentally visualise yourself doing it it's a real benefit!

Thankyou.
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I agree that visualization is a great way to get through the final stretch! Thanks. :)
(Deleted comment)
travelogger From: travelogger Date: July 30th, 2008 05:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
A faster cadence, or amount of times the feet hit the ground.
(Deleted comment)
43 miles | run a mile
about the community
The Original Live Journal Runners Club
User: runners
Name: The Original Live Journal Runners Club
calendar
Back August 2014
12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31
Previous 10 Training Weeks
tags