Learn how to race at your own pace
For many people, getting fitter and healthier is always high up on their agenda come the new year, although the number of people who actually stick to their plan much past little Christmas is anyone's guess!
I started the new year off on a good note by running, and winning, a 5k race hosted by Liffey Valley AC in the Phoenix Park on New Year's Day. After the race, I did a cool down run with a friend who said he felt he did not pace himself properly during the race.
Learning to pace yourself is one of the most important skills a runner can develop and it can help you to improve and set new personal best times as a result.
There is an art to pacing and sometimes people get it terribly wrong and suffer badly during a race as a result. It generally takes a few bad experiences before you get used to the art of pacing and you will achieve valuable knowledge and get to know the correct pace for you by practising it in training runs.
The goal in a race is to cover the distance between the start and finish lines as quickly as possible given one's level of fitness and talent. To get the best out of yourself, you must have a good sense of the fastest pace you can maintain and the ability to make appropriate adjustments based on how your body feels.
You need to learn what your goal pace feels like in your entire body and head.
For instance, in preparation for your next 5k or 10k race, measure a loop that's the distance of your event and practise running it at your goal pace. Every week, repeat this race-pace run and you will notice how it feels. Over time, you will learn how your breathing, heart rate and overall effort feels and you will be able to cover the distance at a faster pace.
It's important to use this weekly tempo run as a race--pace simulation. Listen to your breathing, sense and feel the rhythm in your legs, the motion of your arms. The more you practise at this pace, the more comfortable you will feel on race day.
It is best to run even-paced throughout a race as it uses up the least amount of energy. With your adrenaline pumping from the competition around you, and other runners throwing you off, it can be difficult to keep to your plan but again, with practice and discipline, you will be more familiar with your target race pace.
If you are racing a 5k or 10k, your pace will be relatively fast, so it is good to do three or four fast 100m strides beforehand to help you sustain that pace on the racecourse; it also helps to elevate your heart rate and to experience the feeling of your legs turning over at a fast pace. If you are doing a longer race, like a half or full marathon, skip those last-minute sprints before the race because they could prime you to go out too fast.
If you have started the race too fast, gently slow down; if you have started off too slow, add a smooth surge. Don't sprint to catch up to your next split time, because you will tire yourself out and feel exhausted for the remainder of the race. Try and accelerate very gradually.
With consistent work, you will teach your body to pace itself better and, the more your practise something, the greater the chance you can execute it when it really counts. It will come naturally to you after a while. Learning how to control your pace is difficult, but it is an essential skill and will help you race faster and improve your fitness. Before you know it, you will be running at your target pace without even looking at your watch.
I hope 2014 will be a great running year for you!