Slow down in the middle of your race.
Yes, one of my successful strategies has been to SLOW DOWN in the middle of a race. I know that sounds crazy, mixed up, and the opposite of normal racing advice. However, sometimes it works well, very well.
I will give you an example from a recent race in which my finish time was saved from disaster by slowing down.
(Pacing times will be given in the example. I am reluctant to reveal these times because they may distract from the story as they may seem too fast or too slow. However, the times help to illustrate the strategy.)
On Labor Day, I toed the line at a USATF Minnesota 10K championship race. There was plenty of fast women steps, actually minutes, ahead of me, which was awesome to witness. I was only in the race to jump start my fall training and get my body accustomed to the feeling of tempo paced pain.
Knowing that I wasn't prepared well or rest properly, I planned to start out at a 6:45-mile pace. Then if all went well I would drop the pace as I went, getting faster per mile.
After starting out on pace, I was mentally struggling to keep the 6:45 pace at the 3-mile mark. Since it was an out and back course, the back seemed daunting and way too long to bear. I felt I only needed to slightly slow down to a 7:00-mile pace in order to continue racing to the finish line.
It was crushing to have about five women pass me as I backed off the pace, yet I knew my mind and body needed the break. I hovered at 6:55 pace for miles 4 and 5. Backing off just 10 seconds per mile made a world of a difference in my body's stress level. I only lost about 20 seconds for the much-needed reprieve.
Then with a mile to go, I sensed the finish line ahead and a renewed eagerness to compete against the women around me. I poured on the speed and focused on the finish line. Driving my arms and legs to reach each of the women who had passed me during my "slow down" miles. Twenty meters before the end, I overcame the woman who had paced with me during the first three miles.
So what was my average per mile time for the entire race? 6:45. Yes, I still averaged 6:45 when calculated from the finish time.
Most of all, I felt successful. I ran my race the way my body and mind desired.
The popular and correct advice is to run even splits, each mile being run at the same pace. However, we are not machines, elite athletes, or always at our highest fitness.
We need variability to work through our weaknesses and use our strengths. I was weak at holding a hard tempo pace for 6 miles. I was strong at pressing hard the last mile and overcoming my nearby opponents.
My Labor Day race success came from listening to and knowing my body. Sometimes we need to slow down, speed up, calm down, or challenge ourselves. This takes practice. Not just practice during our average daily run but during races, hard workouts, and near competitors. Be aware of how your body is handling the running stress. Try different responses to high levels of stress.
During my 800 meter repeats this morning I noticed my face tight with a locked jaw. Releasing the tension from my face, shoulders, and arms helped my jaw to relax. My demeanor changed and I was not struggling anymore but moving in a smoother motion as I finished out the repeats.
Listen to your body and use your strengths. Slowing down may be just the strategy you need to employ in order to finish the race strong.