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5 Racing Strategies To Help You Run Your Best

Some runners give almost no thought to a racing plan, especially if their only goal is to finish. However, having some idea of how you want to race, as well as some strategy for doing so, can make anyone’s race experience better. Here are five tips to achieving a strong and fast finish.


The key to having visualization work for you is to practice doing it. The more senses you can incorporate, the better. Immerse yourself in the experience before you have it–trying to smell, feel, see and hear everything you can. Think about the course, the weather, the people around you and get comfortable with the environment. If running the course (or part of it) before race day isn’t an option, you can drive it to get a similar effect.

The more you envision yourself having a calm, strong and successful race with as many details as possible, the more likely it will become a reality.

Pacing Plan

Do you put as much thought into your race-day plan as your training plan before it? Your weekly running leading up to race day is the best indicator of what paces you can confidently hit and when you should ramp up or hold back. A typical race plan should look something like this:

  • Start 20 to 30 seconds slower per mile (unless you’re running a 5K, in which case you should just run fast!)
  • Slowly increase to race pace for the middle miles and hold
  • Ramp up and give everything you have left in the last miles

Throughout your training, implement the slow, steady and fast paces so your body and mind know what each feels like, without even looking at your watch. The more dialed into your race pace you are, the better your outcome will be.

Specific, Meaningful Goals

A lot of runners declare they simply want to finish a race–and of course that is an excellent goal, but why not try digging a little deeper? Having time or pace goals are common and very specific, but what about less tangible goals? Try setting yourself up to finish feeling like you could do more or nailing your fuel and hydration (see below) or maybe just running the last mile at xx:xx pace. Whatever your race goal, be as specific as possible and think about it every day, especially during your training runs.

Calming Your Nerves

A friend once told me, “Nervousness is excitement on pause.” It changed my entire perspective. If you change your mind about stress, you can change your body’s reaction to it. In a popular TED Talk, psychologist Kelly McGonigal suggested, “When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.” The biology of courage. Doesn’t that sound like something every runner needs? Here’s how to get it:

  • Turn signs of “not coping well with pressure,” like sweating, rapid heartbeat and heavy breathing, into positive signs. Instead of being “stressed out” be “energized” and think of these signs as your body physically preparing you to meet the challenge ahead.
  • Rethink each stress response as helpful: your body’s sweat is cooling your skin, a rapid heartbeat is creating more blood flow and your heavy breathing is allowing for more oxygen to be taken in, oxygen that is much needed for your event.
  • Send positive thoughts to your brain, like “This is my body rising to the challenge,” and “My body is telling me it’s ready for what is about to happen.” When you start thinking that way, your body starts believing you.

Fueling Well

The longer the distance, the more challenging eating and hydrating properly can become. Start experimenting with different fuel sources as early as possible during training runs so you know exactly what and when to eat and drink. Be sure you know what will be offered on the course (if anything) and if you need to carry your own essentials or if you can collect what you need from aid stations. It’s always a good idea to have fuel you know you can tolerate, even if you think it will be offered on the course. Ultimately, you should be responsible for what you need, when you need it.


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Allie Burdick

Allie Burdick

Allie is a freelance writer, athlete and mom, but not in that order. Her work has appeared in Runner's World, Triathlon Magazine and ESPNW. On her blog, VITA Train for Life, she chronicles her life as a runner/triathlete and hopes her successes and failures help to motivate and inspire others, even the over-40 crowd she somehow found herself in! The rest of her time is spent raising her twin boys with her husband in the Northeast where they live a big life! See it all on Twitter and Instagram.