The Importance of Racing Strategy

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Independence Day is a popular occasion for road races.  I love events like this that draw the community together, as runners/walkers of all abilities turn out to participate and others line the courses to cheer on the athletes.  As great as these events are, they are that much more fun and rewarding when we perform our best.

Putting ourselves in the best position for a great race requires more than proper nutrition and hard work.  We need sound strategy, both during training as well as on race day itself.   To illustrate my point, let me share with you the planning that went into my 2011 Mount Washington Road Race performance.

The Mount Washington Road Race involves running up the 7.6-mile auto road from the mountain’s base to the summit.  The mistake I made when I ran the race in previous years was trying to keep my pace per mile consistent throughout the event.   On some courses, such as one that is perfectly flat, this strategy might make sense.  On this particular course though where the grade changes and the air gets thinner father up the mountain, it made little sense for me to act as if every mile was the same.  Going into the 2011 race, I needed a new strategy that incorporated these variables.

My new strategy was to keep my level of exertion consistent as the course conditions changed around me.  Using equations that take into account slope, speed, and altitude, I created a spreadsheet that determined the level of oxygen consumption (VO2) that I needed to maintain throughout the race in order to finish in my goal time.  The spreadsheet showed that I needed to maintain a VO2 of 43.6 mL/kg/minute for the entire event in order to finish in my goal time of 1:37.


The next step was to convert 43.6 mL/kg/minute to METS, another measure of oxygen consumption.  The advantage of working with METS as opposed to VO2 is that METS appear on the digital displays of many treadmills, exercise bikes, and other cardiovascular equipment.  By using these pieces of training equipment at my desired METS level, I learned what it felt like in terms of perceived exertion to sustain that level of oxygen consumption.  I could then run outside at that same exertion level and be reasonably certain that I was running at the necessary VO2/METS level.

As my training continued across various modes, I built my endurance at this level of oxygen consumption until I could sustain it for close to the time I expected it would take me to finish the race.

The spreadsheet was not only helpful during training, but also the race itself, as it showed me what my time for each mile should be in order to finish within my goal time.  I wrote these times on the back of my left hand so I could easily compare them to my watch at each mile marker during the event.

I finished the 2011 race faster than I had in either of my previous two Mount Washington races.  I was not necessarily any fitter than I was in 2009 or 2010, but I was definitely smarter, and that made all the difference.

No matter the event for which you are training, make sure you have a sound plan in place that will get you to your goal.

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