As a runner, having a healthy dose of competitive blood coursing through your veins is a fantastic quality to have. The trouble is, irrespective of how well training has gone, a competitive instinct to do well can sometimes have an adverse effect on the outcome of the race and even increase your chances of picking up an injury.

Adopting poorly-executed tactics, or simply the wrong ones, for the race or the conditions on the day can lead to huge disappointment, making you feel a little dejected that all those weeks of training were wasted.

Be it your first 5km or your fifth marathon, if it’s a PB you’re after, there is a number of highly effective race-day tactics you can use
to make sure you do justice to all the hard work you’ve put in and dramatically increase your chances of crossing the line in a personal best time.

Clare Geraghty, one of Australia’s top distance runners, has kindly provided some of her race tactics exclusively for Women’s Running.

5km

At the start:
Due to the short distance of 5km races, it’s important to warm up really well before the gun goes off. Keep moving and incorporate a few short sharp sprints during your warm-up to fire up your muscles and nervous system.

When to push: The final 500m should be used to kick for home. Be careful about kicking too soon though, as too much lactate and acid in your legs can really slow you down before you’ve crossed the line.

When to slow down: If you’ve got your pacing right and don’t set off too quickly at the start, you should never aim to slow down.

Top tactic: Run in a straight line; weaving across the course can add more distance to what’s already a pretty short race.

Tip for first timers: “Stay focused,” says Geraghty. “It’s only 20 minutes (or so) of pain.”

10km

At the start: Jostling for a good position at the start of a 10km is essential if you’re to avoid being swamped by swathes of other runners. If you can, position yourself on the side of the road, where there’s often more space.

When to push: The last two kilometres is a great time to start upping your pace a notch. If you still feel strong for the final kilometre, pick it up again and hit overdrive in the last 500m.

When to slow down: Only if you’ve got your pacing terribly wrong should you think about slowing down. It’s possible to recover from an overzealous first kilometre or two by slowing right down, but it’s best to ensure you get your pacing right from the start.

Top tactic: Clare advices that runners should avoid the common mistake of running too fast in the early stages of the race. “You can’t win the race in the first 2km, but you can lose it by going out too hard.”

Tip for first timers: If this is your first 10km, you’ve probably chosen a big event with lots of people. Bear in mind that running fast when surrounded by thousands of people isn’t always easy, so look out for flailing legs.

15km

At the start: Unconventional distances, such as 15km, are tricky to pace, so be conservative early on.

When to push: This is often difficult to judge if you don’t run 15km races very often, but if all is looking good and you’re feeling strong after 10km then you can think about putting your foot on the gas.

When to slow down: 15km races are often organised in more rural areas with plenty of lovely hills. Slow your pace down when you climb a hill to preserve your energy.

Top tactic: “Once the hard work of the training is done, the key to succeeding in a race, over any distance, is concentration and focus,” says Geraghty. “Run your own race and don’t get caught up in other people’s.”

Tip for first timers: Always practise a few 15km distances in training, playing around with your pace to give you a good idea how your legs handle this unconventional distance.

Struggling at the half way mark?

If your legs are fatiguing with 10km to go in a half marathon, for example, try to think of the remaining kilometres as 10 individual goals, rather than seeing them all rolled into one. By ticking off each kilometre one at a time, psychologically you feel far more positive that you’re eating away at the kilometres and that the finish line is getting closer.

Half marathon

At the start: Geraghty, who won Noosa Half Marathon in 2010 and 2012, is a strong believer in a steady start. “Start off steadily and stick to your plan – don’t try to rush off with people who are faster than you or who are making the mistake of starting too fast.”

When to push: Clare says, the 13km mark is the key. “I’d rather work hard from 13 to 19km and suffer for the last 2km, than get to 19km easily, hammer the last 2km and then finish feeling I had more to give.”

When to slow down: Ideally, never. If fatigue does hit you after only half way, take it a bit easier and hope adrenaline takes you through to the end.

Top tactic: Do your research. Find out the topography of the course and where the hills are. Knowledge is key when taking on an unfamiliar course. By knowing where the inclines and declines are, you’ll know when it’s time to push the pace or ease off.

Tip for first timers: Don’t ignore the water stations. Water is essential when you start running in races lasting more than an hour, so one key tactic is to stay hydrated.

Marathon

At the start:
Getting the pace right at the start of a marathon is essential, or you’ll pay a hefty price. Many first time marathoners run slower than their target time because they run their first few kilometers way too fast. Have a pacing plan and stick to it.

When to push: Unless you’re a regular marathon runner and know your limitations, the only time you can really push is the final straight. Fatigue can overwhelm you if you kick before then, so unless you feel great and have kick left – just focus on finishing.

When to slow down: Inclines, water stations and over-pacing are the only times you can afford to intentionally ease the pace.

Top tactic: “Drink plenty of water very early on, around the three, four or five km marker, says Clare. “At 35km, when you start to feel thirsty, it’s too late for the body to take it in.”

Tip for first timers: First and foremost, aim to enjoy the event. Run the pace you know you’re capable of and, if the marathon gods are on your side, there’s every chance you’ll cross the line in your target time. Words By: Graeme Hildtich.

Feeling tired early on?

If you find yourself in a bit of trouble early on in the race and it dawns on you that despite good intentions, your tactics have not gone as planned, don’t panic – there’s still time to get back on track. If you discover you’ve run too fast after the first 10 – 20 km, running expert Tim Noakes advises you to stop and walk. “This will break your running rhythm and enable you to make a fresh start at a slower pace,” he says. Noakes believes if you don’t stop and walk, it’s almost impossible to slow down adequately.