Lost in the Middle of the Pack?

Your alarm goes off a little earlier than usual on a Saturday morning. You grab your sweats and lace up your shoes. Are you ready? Maybe today will be a personal best! You’re excited for the gun to signal the start of the race. Relax. Save your energy. Your heart is beating hard, ready to spring into action. Standing on a ladder, the race director begins the countdown. 5!… 4!… 3!… 2!… 1!… BANG! You jump at the loud crack of the gun. Then, you wait as the hundred something people in front of you make their way through the start line.

How do you still get the most out of yourself when you’re surrounded by so many people? You decided to start in the middle of the pack to run at your own pace. You’re using your own watch, rather than the big clock that started two minutes before you, to get your personal time as you cross the finish line.

Most racing tips seem to focus on the small group competing for the win, rather than the middle of the pack runners. We all find ourselves in the middle of the pack at some point, and need to find a new way to improve and find motivation.

Here are some racing and training tips that helped me when I found myself lost in the middle of the pack.

Have a Plan

Remember, you are on a race course, not a run course. Try and check the course out a week or two beforehand. This allows you to strategize where to pick up the pace for two minutes, where to move over so you can position for that sharp right turn, or where to start your final push. If you can’t get to the course before race day, try a warmup running backwards from the finish line. Knowing the location of the finish will give you a better final push rather than letting it surprise you around the last corner.

Planning your training will also make it easier to follow through and be consistent. And consistent training is the fastest way to improving your times. Along with planning comes tracking your training. Use a calendar, spreadsheet, or notebook to make notes of what you did and how you felt. This will help you stay accountable to your plan.

Keep Moving

Dictate your own pace by passing the group that is progressively slowing. When someone passes you, let the competitive juices flow a little and match their pace for a bit. If they still pull away from you, they did some work for you to pull you ahead. Keep a tally on the number of runners that you pass. If you’re passing many more people than pass you, try starting a little faster next time.

This analysis can also be achieved with a GPS or simple timer watch. When reviewing your race, see how even your mile splits were across the race. If your first mile is faster than all the rest, adjust to starting slower so you can be faster on average. If you finish much faster than your average pace, try starting a little faster because you still had more energy to give. The middle of the race brings opportunities. Be brave and stick to pace, because the excitement of being close to a great time will help you across the last stretch to the finish.

New Can Be Motivating

When looking for your next race, try something new and find your motivation. If you’ve only run 5Ks, try a 10K, a half-marathon, or a new course. If you’ve done every type of race distance already, check out the growing obstacle course racing series, organize a relay team or an individual or team triathlon, or try an all-comers track meet. There are numerous ways to try something new. Not all training has to be logging long miles for a marathon; find something fun and go achieve your goal!

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Written by James Tracy

James lives in Provo while he is finishing a graduate degree in exercise physiology at Brigham Young University. Beginning in 2008, James ran track and cross country for BYU specializing in the steeplechase. He enjoys a variety of sports with his family and two year-old daughter.