Race Strategy- When to Surge

The first day of fall was a little overcast and seemingly a good day for a 5k, although it proved a lot more humid then I expected. I was running this 5k for a good speed workout in preparation for The Baltimore Marathon in 3 weeks. After a few weeks of heavy mileage, tough speed workouts and hill running, this was going to be a hard run on tired legs. So what would my race strategy be? I was not sure who would turn up for this race but knew a few fast people might show up with cash being awarded top 3 overall male and female finishers.

As I warmed up for the race, I noticed a young girl doing her warm up too. I had already done an easy warm up run on the 5k course, so I was familiar with the route and was now doing some strides to remind my legs to run fast. She too was doing her strides and she obviously had some speed and good running form. I figured she was the one to try to pace with.

When the gun went off, she rocketed ahead with a few of the men. My older, tired legs were not going to keep up with a fast start. At my age, I have learned I just have to start out a little slower and let the speed build and try to keep a steadier pace. I was hoping she started out a little too fast! After the first mile, I could see her ahead and I was definitely making ground on her and I sensed if I kept this pace I would catch her in another mile. I had to resist the temptation to speed up to quickly and run out of gas before the end of the race. Experience has taught me to be patient.

There was a turnaround at about 1.5 miles and she could see when she made the turn back towards the oncoming runners that I was closer to her then she had thought. She threw in a surge and pulled away from me, but I kept my pace and thought she might tire again. I was right and as I approached the 2 mile mark she was an arm’s length away. Do I pass now, or do I shadow her for a while and run on her heels, allowing a little recovery for me, letting her break the wind. But I also knew that her closing speed on much younger legs was something I had to consider.

I had raced in a 5k a few weeks earlier and made the mistake of waiting to pass the girl in front of me with a half mile to go and not surging enough to put some distance between us. She pulled in behind me and ran on my heels until the last 50 yards and sprinted past me to beat me by 1 second. I didn’t want that to happen again.

So this time, I ran by her with my steady pace and listened to her breathing and checked her response. She was laboring, I could tell. Sso I decided now was the time to put on a surge, that she was struggling to keep my pace. Now was the time to put some distance on her and run strong for the next couple of hundred yards, then settle back to my pace and hope to hold her off.

As we rounded the last turn, I looked over my shoulder to see she was about 100 yards back. I knew she would start to kick and I knew I had to do the same or she would see I was weakening. I took a deep breath and dug deep. I was running with everything I had and she was closing. One last surge and the finish line was about 25 yards ahead of me. I crossed the line in first place and held her off by about 5 seconds. I was totally spent, but thrilled I had kept my spot and made the right decision that day. My strategy worked.

There are always lessons to be learned on the road. Split second decisions can make the difference in the outcome and experience whether it is a good result or a bad result will produce wisdom.