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Strategies for Running a Faster Race

Run Smarter on Race Day

By

Updated May 16, 2014

Running faster means working harder, and improvements obviously don't happen overnight. But if you're shooting for a PR, you could shave some seconds or maybe even minutes off your finishing time with smart strategies that have little to do with your fitness level. Whether you're doing a 5K or a marathon, here are some tips to try during your next race:

1. Study the course.

Get as much information about the course as you can, so you'll know to pace properly or be prepared mentally for tough sections, like hills. Most races post the course map and often an elevation map on the race website. If you're running a local race, take advantage of your home field advantage and run the course or parts of the course during your training.

2. Run the tangents.

Green Runners in Road Race
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Even though race courses are measured accurately, many racers run a longer distance (and therefore a slower finish time) by following every curve in the road. A tangent is a straight line that just touches a curve, so the concept of "running the tangents" is to run the shortest distance possible by running straight from one curve to the next.

3. Check your form.

Runner outside in fall weather
Photo by Chase Jarvis/Getty Images
Every mile or so, check your running form from head to toe, so you can prevent wasting energy as a result of bad form. Look ahead (not down), keep your shoulders relaxed, arms swinging back and forth (not side to side), and your hands gently clenched. Keep your hips under your shoulders and make sure your stride is short, with your feet close to the ground.

4. Don't lose time at the start or water stops.

Runners at New York City Marathon water stop
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Make sure you line up properly at the start, so you don't spend time and energy weaving around slower runners or walkers. At the water stops, don't stop at the first table -- it's always the most crowded. Go to a table towards the end and on the left-hand side, if there are tables on both sides of the street. (Most people are right-handed and naturally go to the tables on the right side.)

5. Avoid bathroom stops.

Port-a-potty
Photo by Michael Blann

Don't waste time stopping at the port-a-potties. Follow tips on how to avoid runner's trots and having to stop to urinate.

6. Don't go out too fast.

Runners in race
Yellow Dog Productions
One of the biggest mistakes in racing is going out too fast in the beginning of the race. The problem is that if you go out too fast, you'll burn through your stored energy too quickly and your muscles will fatigue faster, leaving you feeling tired and depleted toward the end of your race. Follow these tips to avoid starting out too fast.

Also see: How to Finish Races Faster and Stronger
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