Like your training, the start of a running event must be carefully worked out and prepared. Objective: assess the consequences of starting quickly or gradually on your race management.
1. Being in the the Right Place on the Start Line
Unlike national or international races where the runners of different abilities are kept apart in different start pens, everyone is free to start where they want in local races. Therefore, it is not unusual to see sportsmen and women position themselves way too near the front of the group of runners with all the risks that this entails. Firstly, you may hinder those that are running faster than you. Secondly, you are in danger of running too fast as you get dragged along by the pace of the race leaders and the excitement of the start, a mistake for which you will pay the consequences later on...
In any case, whatever the race profile, distance and terrain, it is better to give up a place near the front and plan on starting in the middle of the group of runners if your aim is not to be among the leaders.
However, don't worry, if you are not among the favourites and you are looking to improve your performance on a 10 km, half marathon or marathon distance, the vast majority of races now offer start waves with pacer runners, which will place you in the ideal position, according to your level of ability and your aspirations!
2. Starting Quickly to Get in Position
The decision to start quickly must be properly thought out in order to avoid getting stuck behind and having to extract yourself from the main group of runners. This strategy is more usually reserved for seasoned runners who know their bodies very well and can adapt their pace according to the speed they need to maintain later on.
On roads (and particularly over short distances), the speed can be very high over the first few metres. After this rapid start, it is important to quickly slow down to the pace that you have set yourself during your preparation. Otherwise, you may lack the strength you need at the end of the race.
What's more, during a short-distance trail run, we recommend that you do your warm-up by running the first 2 km of the race to check that there is no "bottleneck". A single-track path, some steps or a walkway will all create a narrowing of the route, which is bound to cause the group of runners to slow down or even stop completely, thereby damaging your chances of attaining your objectives.
You are taking part in a short-distance race and planning to start quickly. This strategy requires a sufficiently long warm-up phase to prepare your body from the muscular as well as the cardiovascular point of view. This sudden acceleration is similar to a repetition, which you might undertake during interval training, of intermediate intervals (400 to 1000 m) at a high MAS percentage. Consequently, the quick phases of this type of training provide a good reference point for when you want start your competition at a fast pace.
You can therefore decide on a short sequence (400, 800, 1000 m) at a fast pace to try to extract yourself from the group of runners and give yourself a good launchpad for the rest of the race.
Once in position, return to the running pace that you had initially planned. Try to be as consistent as possible: either in terms of your speed or your heart rate. Consistency is very often the key to you successfully achieving your running objective because it is a sign of your capacity to manage your effort.
Unlike a short event in which your primary aim is to run quickly, running in events involving longer distances than the ones we are used to is often a question of having the strength of will to cross the finishing line. Your first long race will be like diving into the unknown for a number of reasons: what time should you be aiming for? When should you eat? How will your body react over the full length of the race? Are you able to run the distance?
For all these reasons, starting slowly when running your first half marathon, marathon or on long trail running events is the best way to ensure that you get as far as possible because you will be preserving your energy reserves and your body.
However, curbing one's enthusiasm during the first half of a race does not necessarily mean that you have to scrap any idea of achieving an ambitious performance! An increasing number of sportsmen and women of every level of ability are opting for a "negative split" time, which involves running the second half of the race more quickly than the first half. Those who are fond of this strategy prefer to run at a slightly slower speed than their target speed in order to avoid discomfort and they will accelerate progressively in order to finish fast!
The start of a race will set the tone for your effort, being in the right position rather than the best position is already a key factor in you successfully achieving your objective. Keep control of your pace and don't allow yourself to be dragged along at a pace that is not your own!
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