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Higdon’s Run Fast Series Part 2: Race Day Speed Strategies

BY Hal Higdon

The second in our three-part series from legendary coach Hal Higdon on how to unlock your potential on the run.

A prolific running coach, contributing editor at Runner’s World, and author of more than 30 books, Hal Higdon is synonymous with the marathon. Everyone from high school track hopefuls to Olympians have benefited from his vast knowledge of the sport and how to unlock your potential doing it. His best-selling book “Run Fast” was recently released in its third edition, and he’s given us a look into some of the many nuggets of wisdom found within it. Last week he offered up his 12 secrets of running success. This week he offers eight tips for nailing your first road race:

It’s normal to feel nervous on race day. Whether you’re unsure about your training, your ability or how you stack up to the competition, even world-class runners feel anxious on the starting line. But running a race is not that much different than running a workout. Here are eight tips that will relieve your mind and show you how to channel your anxiety into formulating a focused race strategy.

1. Do Some Scouting

Attend a major race first as a spectator. Observe with an unbiased mind everything you see, from the start to the finish to the post-race parties. Running races have their rituals. Seeing how smoothly the sport functions will ease your mind.

2. Plan What to Take

Most runners like to plan what outfit to wear—including shoes, well in advance. Lay your gear out the night before so you don’t forget anything, especially your race number. In fact, pin it to your singlet the night before, then try on that singlet to make sure the number fits comfortably. Pre-race paranoia is common among runners, novice and experienced alike. Plan for all kinds of weather. Most runners come dressed to run, but you will want to take some extra clothes for post-race activities.

3. Enjoy the Expo

This is a day-before-the-race extravaganza where runners pick up their bibs (running numbers) and race T-shirts. Expos are fun meeting grounds for runners young and old, novice and expert. As you will quickly learn, the excitement begins long before runners arrive at the starting line.

4. Carefully Select Your First Race

In theory, there should be less pressure at a small, local race—that is, unless everybody there knows you. One plus of picking a large race for your first starting-line appearance is anonymity. No one will care how fast (or slow) you run except you.

5. Learn All About the Race

Find the race website. All but the smallest 5K races have sites highlighting all you need to know about the event: time, place, course map, etc. Read everything you find online. Everything! The more you know, the more comfortable you’ll feel at your first race.

6. Enter Early

The most popular races often limit the number accepted into the field. Wait too long and you may find the race closed. More importantly, registering exhibits a commitment and provides you with the goal you need—plus the entry fee often is less the sooner you sign up.

7. Pick a Side Event

Many high-profile running events at longer distances (half and full marathons) include secondary “fitness runs” with no times or prizes, thus less pressure to perform. You can enjoy all the fun of the main event without feeling like you are in a race, and you can learn much needed information about the course, the quality of the aid stations, parking availability and race scenery.  

8. Don’t Forget to Train

Most of my short-distance training programs last eight weeks. That guarantees that you will show up at the starting line ready to run.

Next week, Higdon will discuss the important differences between fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers, and how they each contribute to your overall speed and running performance.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.