Thursday, February 18, 2010

Talking 5K strategy with 4 very fast runners

If you've never raced a 5K -- I mean really truly raced one -- here's an experiment you can do right now to get an idea of what it's like: Hold your breath for as long as you possibly can ... and then when you can't hold it any longer, hold it for another 30 seconds.

This is exactly why I've grown to dread 5Ks. They hurt. Like a (expletive). Every time. I go out hard and fast, and I spend the last half of the race fighting off the urge to walk. Usually, after I cross the finish line, I either feel like I'm going to die or feel like I'm going to throw up.

Not much of a strategy, I know. But is there a strategy? I asked four local "elites," all of whom are competing in 5Ks in Charlotte this weekend, to share their tactical secrets.

Paul Mainwaring
Race he's running this weekend: The Cupid's Cup 5K.
Most notable recent finish: Third at the 2009 Thunder Road Marathon in Charlotte.
5K PR: 15:45, set in London back in 2005.
5K strategy: "To be honest I don't really strategize 5Ks much -- the race is too short. A lot of it is done on the fly, depending on who else is racing, what the course is like and what sort of shape I'm in. If I do have a strategy, though, it depends a lot on who I am racing against and also on the makeup of the course. It is very important to scout out the course beforehand, note where the significant hills, twists and turns are, etc. In an ideal world, you should try [for an] even split, or at least even effort. Too many people head out too fast and pay the price in the last mile. Saturday's race is a classic example of the course dictating strategy. Go out too fast up the hill and you won't be able to take advantage of the last downhill mile. At the same time, the 5K is a short race. If you let your rivals go too far ahead, there's not much time to get back to them. It's a delicate balance."

Danielle Walther
Race she's running this weekend: The UNCC Homecoming 5K.
Most notable recent finish: Sixth overall at the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, Pa., in October.
5K PR: 18:18.
5K strategy: "My race day strategy starts with picking out a goal finish time range, based on the course, how I've been training, and the weather. Then I review the course map to get a feel for how to break up my mile splits. I write out my goal splits and time, and bring them with me to the race. I never, under any circumstance, eat or wear something new on race day. I like to do an easy two-mile warmup, followed by some strides to get the legs turning over. Once the race starts, I focus on staying relaxed and picking people off. When I hit the third mile, I always tell myself, 'You’re running slower than you think, pick it up.' I may not always pick it up, but I try."

Billy Shue
Race he's running this weekend: The UNCC Homecoming 5K.
Most notable recent finish: Fifth at the Thunder Road Marathon in December.
5K PR: 17:09 at the Mt. Mourne 5K in January.
5K strategy: "Having really just gotten into competitive racing within the last year, I have learned quite a lot in terms of strategizing for the 5K race. First of all, it's critical to get in a quality warmup of about two to three miles, or an easy 15 to 20 minutes, to get the legs loose. Ideally, you should warm up on the race course, so that there are no surprises during the race, if you aren't already familiar with the course. Secondly, it's important that you control yourself on that first mile and resist the urge to surge so early in the race. You should focus on good technique and running smooth on that initial mile, which leads me to my next point -- building the intensity. You should try to crank up the intensity with each mile, so that you're able to effectively give everything you have on that last mile."

Christopher Lamperski
Race he's running this weekend: The Cupid's Cup 5K.
Most notable recent finish: First at the Critz Tybee Half Marathon earlier this month.
5K PR: 15:27.
5K strategy: "I look up previous results and it helps me gauge what type of course it is based upon the times run. When I get to the race, I try to get about two miles of warming up, at least with some strides and dynamic warmup drills. By then, it's time to hit the starting line, where I can get my true scope of who will be racing. This allows me to initially plan out a race right there on the spot, even though I have something fairly planned beforehand. If I know there will be some people pushing for an honest pace, I prep myself mentally to withstand a quick start to stay near the lead pack. After that, it just becomes racing -- it's either hold on for dear life, play the surge game to break people, or wait till the end to kick with everything you have left."

Do you have a 5K strategy ... or do you do what I do (i.e. just run like crazy)?


Anonymous said...

Now I know the names to the faces that I see running back to me for their "cool down run" as I am still on the 5K course. The other thing to note, these guys are equally mast in long and short disances. What about specialization?

Anonymous said...

5k strategy = even stevens (as as close to it as possible). ultimate goal = beat aaron linz


ac said...

While I am not very fast runner, my 5K strategy is to wear red shoes.
Because the guy with red shoes always wins.

Anonymous said...

My main advice: If at all possible, race against PEOPLE, not against TIME. If you have a shot at winning your age group, find out who the other contenders are, see if you can identify them before the race, and keep them in your sight. Than, at a point on the course that you have chosen, make a big move and put distance between you and them. Even if you don't have any chance to win your age group, identify some who beat you in your last race, and strategize how you will beat them. Again, aim at one big move.

Racing should be about competition, not about time-trialing.

(5k PR = 14:33, in ancient history)

Audra said...

I love 5Ks! For exactly the same reasons you hate them.

Anonymous said...

I love running 5ks. I am training for my first marathon right now and can't wait to start running the shorter faster distances again. My goal in 5k's is always to go out relaxed and under control for the first mile, pick it up during the 2nd, and finish strong the last mile.

5k PR - 15:33 about 10 years ago in college.


Anonymous said...

What I like to do is start right up front in a stance like a high school sprinter. Then when the race starts I zig zag unpredictably around the streets with my elbows flailing around like chicken wings. Then at random times during the race I stop right where I am and retie my shoes. I tell ya there are a lot of hostile and rude people in this city.

Matt W said...

@Anonymous with chicken wing elbows

I remember you...

Anonymous said...

Also I think it's important to play really loud music on my ipod. If I think the people aroune me can't hear it I sing along for their enjoyment.

I also enjoy running past the water station, changing my mind, stopping in the middle of the street, and walking back to get water.


In all seriousness THIS I do not just at a 5k but pretty much at every race I've ever run in EVER. Woo hooo I'm KILLING my PR wheeze wheeze ok maybe not so much:

"Too many people head out too fast and pay the price in the last mile. "

Anonymous said...

Good topic Theoden. And great feedback from the 4 fast runners! Thanks!

All I train for is 5K races. My race strategy is determined by several things: 1)my current training pace 2)the course 3)the weather 4)my age group competitors 5)the psychological state of my "racing mind".

I train to run the 5K at a pace that will allow me to be competitive with other runners in my age group. (I'm past the age where I can place 1st overall, so I compete with my age group)

Currently I'm training to run a 6 min mile pace for a 5K (with the wind at my back hahahahha). This weekend I'm running the Cupids Cup and because of the uphill beginning I plan to hit the first mile at around 6:10. Between mile 1 and mile 1.5 are more hills, so I plan to hold the same pace and work through the hills as efficiently as I can. At about the 1.5 mile mark the course begins to level out – at this point I want to relax, (yeah right) concentrate on my running form and try to gain momentum. Then at about the 1.8 mile the course begins to go downhill. From here to the finish I plan to loosen up, use proper downhill running form, and run closer to the pace I've been training at. Anyway...that's my race plan, I'll see how it works out.

Also, as Theoden said, the 5k race can be physically and psychologically uncomfortable. In fact, if you give it your BEST EFFORT the race IS UNCOMFORTABLE! In regards to the psychological aspect of the 5k race – you really need to train for that too so that you're mentally prepared for the challenge of pushing yourself and be mentally prepared when you slip out of your comfort zone. You need strategies to get you through the mental distress when things get tough. One strategy that I use (at the start line) is to tell myself that this will be uncomfortable. I remind myself that the uncomfortable feeling is nothing to get alarmed over, or be surprised at, that this is expected and "normal". And then, when I'm in the thick of the race and my breathing is hard and it feels like I need an oxygen intervention, and my mind begins to ask "what the hell are you doing", I'm prepared for the mind games and I'm not 'shocked' or taken by surprise by what I'm experiencing – I quickly remind myself that this is the way it's supposed to feel – and the negative thought is pushed aside....and I hold the pace...I hope. Weird, but it seems to work for me...most times :)

I'd like to hear of other psychological strategies that people use when the going gets tough.


Mark Hadley said...

Here is a tip that has worked well for me for years.

Break the race down into shorter segments (miles, blocks, laps) and have a goal/strategy for each segment. Then only focus on the segment you are on. Once a segment is over don't think/worry about it and don't think/worry about the next one, just concentrate on executing your strategy for the segment your in.

By breaking a race up into these smaller, more manageable segments, its easier to keep your concentration and it keeps you from thinking about how much further you have to go (i.e. its less overwhelming).

Happy racing everyone!

And oh yeah, what Caitlin said is great - just beat Aaron .... oh I mean run even splits

Virtuous said...

Great post!! And likes what Danielle & Billy had to say about their strategies.

I liked Brando and LUV'd TM's in the comment section :)

Thank you for this helpful advice as my nerves have already started tonight for my very 1st 5K tomorrow! I will be at the Cupid Cup. So this post was right on time!!

Anonymous said...

Chicken wing guy cracked me up. I'm still laughing.

trdutch said...

I like to focus on doing the best I can in my age group,but lately I have been scouting out runners that have the same kind of run times as me and then I focus on racing them.
Theoden,you and I will meet soon enough because our times could make us twins.
All in the spirit of fun of course.

Anonymous said...

The chicken winged guy is to funny!

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