It’s easy to coast along on cruise control. To be reactive, waiting for the competition to move first.
This sort of strategic positioning is commonplace among dominant market players where the sit-and-wait philosophy is endemic. Few take the bull by the horns and dare to set the agenda, which stymies the opportunity for outrageous success.
When you step out to race at any level of running, a similar set of rules tends to apply. In running circles there are still articles being written about the tactics employed by various athletes at the London Olympics. The two races mentioned most frequently are the back-to-back victories of Mo Farah in the 10,000m and 5,000m events. Pundits continue to tear out their hair wondering why, in the 5000m in particular, some well-credentialed athletes didn’t take their destiny into their own hands and attempt to run the already fatigued Farah off his legs.
Instead they allowed the pace to dawdle along and for the fast-finishing Farah to use his finishing kick to claim a famous and second victory.
It seems almost unbelievable that this situation would occur. The training of Farah and his training partner, Galen Rupp, is scrutinised around the world. Everyone knew they’d been practising their finishing speed with flat-out sprinting at the end of many of their no-doubt demanding track training sessions. It wasn’t then much of a surprise, then, that Farah and Rupp finished off the 10,000m in first and second position respectively.
This kind of championship racing is a relatively frequent occurrence, and is often cited by coaches and runners as a reason to only practise running to win in lower level competition, rather than giving your best effort on the day. It tends to promulgate predictably slow racing with flashy sprint finishes and subsequent breathless media quotes about “[being] happy to get the win”. A bit more daring wouldn’t go astray from time to time and might encourage taking the race up to fast-finishers like Farah.
Nothing really changes when racing at lower levels of competition; even slower runners like myself can unwittingly follow the pace rather than set the agenda in races. One way to avoid falling asleep at the wheel is to have a good idea of your fitness levels by analysing your training. If you’re feeling brave then testing the limits might involve running a slightly quicker (but even) pace than you think you’re capable of – leaving the competition behind, if necessary. The additional adrenaline of racing can provide the lift you need to achieve performance levels that you’d never manage on the training track.
Even if you’re running to do your best rather than trying to win medals at the Olympics, a more daring approach to racing can pay surprising dividends. Understand your limitations – but then make a plan to set them aside on race day.