Your aim should always be to try and win a race but if you can’t, then it should be to run to the limit of your present state of fitness. If you think and act this way you might be beat but not disappointed.
And sometimes it’s not just physical fitness that gets you across the line. Using your intelligence and thinking clearly can be critical and that’s where race craft comes into play.
A cross country race can be split into start, early stages, mid race, closing stages and finish. All these stages have important points to note. Important decisions need to be made at all these stages but the start will set you on a path that will determine what decisions they will be.
I’m going to focus on the start and primarily the speed at which to go out. A fast start means you enter the early stages of the race in a position that you defend or move up slightly from. A slow start you slot in quite some way back from your target position but you move through the field.
The first option, a fast start, gives you a psychological boost and fires up the adrenaline but you have to use this well-earned opportunity and manage your energy to the finish. Overdoing it and running too fast too long can back fire and you will pay the price for the rest of the race slowing to a crawl. It’s a high risk tactic which takes some practice to perfect suiting an experienced athlete who tend to have a done a good deal of high intensity training. This training helps them know how fast and how long.
The second option, a steady start with a plan to “come through” is less risky but does rely on you effectively spending the energy you did not use at the start. It’s easy to kid yourself your running fast enough. It’s not good enough to merely be going by people, you need to ensure you are going by enough to achieve your objective? A fast start could mean you run out of fuel but just as bad would be starting steady and finishing with energy still to burn.
When running for a team, where points are critical, a steady start can help you react to a team situation. With half a mile to go, your coach might tell you the team is one point behind the winning team. Having a little energy left in the closing stages would give you the ability to take that crucial place in the race.
Below are some other factors to take into consideration:
1.Size of the race – In some of the bigger races, you may find yourself competing against over 300 runners. In those races a slow start can leave you with a wall of runners to get round at the first turn.
If you are trying to make the top 10 then a fast start will be needed to avoid hitting this wall of runners. You don’t have to get right up there but you need to have the leaders in your sights. Not so critical if you are looking to make the top 100.
- Terrain – The most important single factor that leads to success in a race on the day is to know the course. Without knowing where the hills, the fast stretches, where halfway is and where the finish is, how can you possibly run a good well-judged race?
- Pen start – A large race often have Team pens where you may be 4th,5th or 7th in the pen. In that situation you be forced to approach the race with a view to coming through.
- Rivals – I’m a firm believer in running your own race, but if you have rivals you want to beat then it is worth considering their normal tactics. If they are a runner that goes straight from the gun then you need to be close to them after the start.
Finally, one of the best ways to work out what type of start suits you try different types of starts in some of the early races this season.
Cross Country coach