Long distance running – that track stretches out in front of even the most able of students. To improve and gain confidence, students need focus, goals and strategies.

But what are the best strategies for long distance track races? Is it just about training and ability or is there anything that you can do to achieve better performances through tactical race management?

Distance

Obvious it may be but your times will be quicker if you run a shorter distance. Given that many of your competitors will also be trying to stay as close as possible to the inside of the track, there are a few options that you can choose at the start of the race.

  • Front running – surge from the start and move to the inside of the track as quickly as possible. Reach the front of the lead group and then maintain your planned lap times. Be aware that you don’t need to be at the very front, just close enough to kick later and not get blocked by other runners.
  • Manage your race from the main group – without surging at the start, move to the inside with the main group of runners. Try not to get boxed in or too close to the runner in front of you. During your race, use the movement of your arms and elbows to dissuade other runners from getting too close.
  • Lead from the rear – this is most beneficial for those runners with a strong kick at the end of the race. Don’t fall too far back from the main group but allow them to fight for position and over-exert themselves as they bump and jostle with the other runners. Stay on the inside and move up as your lap times get faster towards the end of the race.

Slipstreaming

It may not be noticeable at first but if you lead a group of runners with clear air in front of you, some of your energy is taken up by parting the air for those behind you.

Try to keep close to one or two runners in front of you so that they are tasked with easing your movement through the air as they create a slipstream for you to use.

Although the benefits are marginal, close races can be decided by hundredths of second and having that extra bit of energy at the end of the race could make all the difference.

Passing

When passing other competitors, do so with confidence and a surge in pace that will allow you to go wide enough to avoid any blocking tactics.

Running is not just about fitness and ability, mental fortitude and confidence play a big part in race success. If you pass a competitor with ease and without obvious effort, the impact on their confidence can be measured in seconds by the end of the race.

Surge past and then relax at your planned pace once you are a few strides in front of them. Practice moving your head slightly to expand your peripheral vision so that you can react with another small burst of speed should they immediately try to take back track position after you have passed them.

Also, try to overtake on corners. Runners often focus more on keeping to the inside that on competitors coming up alongside them on the outside. Use this to your advantage.

Pacing

There are various options to use pacing to manage your race: even-split; positive-split; negative-split; sit-and-kick.

Try each of these during training to see which suits you best. There are positives and negatives to each style but some will suit you more than others.

Of course, you can also try a combination of pacing options during the race depending on what your competitors are doing. Sometimes an even-split tactic with regular surges to overtake and then relax back into the planned pace can be very effective in managing others out of the race.

While it’s universally accepted that a negative split (e.g. a race split into two, with the second half ran faster than the first) results in better performance (as supported by world records for races ranging from 1500m to marathons), this approach is often so simple that it doesn’t play to a runner’s full potential.

Train by splitting the races into two, three and four sections, each with differing paces – trialling and testing is key to discovering a mix that works for you.