You’ve done the training. Now steal the tricks pros use to cruise to your fastest finish.
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DO A MENTAL PRE-GAME
Before you walk out the door, spend a minute in front of a mirror. “Get into a power stance: chest lifted, head held high and arms either on hips or crossed – whatever makes you feel as if you’re going to crush it,” says Joe Holder, a Nike+ Run Club coach in New York City. “It’s a fast way to fire up your confidence and calm pre-race nerves.”
You’ll look flashy in your race photos and you’ll relax your upper body. Squinting contracts your face muscles, and that tension moves down your neck to your shoulders, says Andrew Kastor, the head coach of the ASICS Mammoth Track Club in the US. “Even slight stiffness in your upper body messes with your form. You don’t stride as long or as powerfully,” he notes. “And tight muscles require more fuel than relaxed ones, so you’re wasting energy with every step.”
HUG THE CURVES
On a track, running a 5K on the inside lane makes your race about 95m shorter than that of the person running one lane to your right. “To save serious energy and time on a course with wide roads or lots of curves, follow the tangent line that’s closest to any corner you’re turning,” suggests Nicole Tully, a USA Track & Field runner and Hoka One One athlete. That way, you won’t add unnecessary distance. (During a marathon, you could run up to an extra kilometre if you go wide.)
TUNE OUT ENERGY DRAINS
At the start line, eyes off the com petition. “I don’t let the superfit-looking runners get in my head,” says Katie Bottini, a competitive triathlete and coach. “Instead, I tell myself: ‘This race is going to be fun.’ And I channel that high at the finish when I cross totally spent, feeling as if I gave it my all.”
FIND YOUR FOCUS
Certain stretches will inevitably feel like a slog. “Pick out a runner or an object, like a stop sign or a tree, just ahead of you, and make that a target that seems to pull you along, rather than just gunning for the finish line,” suggests Lindsay Flanagan, a professional marathon runner for Mizuno. Chasing down a target every now and then can distract you from any discomfort, and boost both your speed and confidence.
Resist the urge to slow down once you get to the top of a hill, and push to run faster for a few extra metres, Katie says. You’ll gain time you might have lost chugging uphill and pass some people who are coasting to recover from the climb – an extra adrenalin rush. On a downhill, stay upright, because leaning back puts on the brakes.
“If you’re running with a bar, chews or gels, open them a little – but not so much that they would spill or ooze out – right before you line up, and store them in a place that’s easy to reach,” advises Maria Dalzot, a member of the La Sportiva Mountain Running team in the US. When you need that energy kick, you won’t have to fumble with wrappers or zippers.
TIME IT JUST RIGHT GPS
watches are key to keeping you on pace, especially if you’re in unfamiliar territory. But too many glances at your tech can slow you down by messing with your form and taking you out of your rhythm. “Set the GPS to vibrate or beep every kilometre, so you don’t miss your splits while running hard,” says Katie Mackey, a Brooks Beast competitive middle-distance runner. For shorter runs, cut it down to every half kilometre so you can adjust your speed as needed.