With the right mindset and strategy, you can make your next race a breakthrough

Let’s be honest. We all want to do our best when we race. That’s the whole point, right? Sure, it’s unrealistic to have a goal of setting a PR every time out, but on the other hand, there are quite a few ways to improve your racing and break on through some of those mental and physical barriers.

Former Austinite and nationally renowned coach Greg Macmillan refers to it as the “Go Zone” racing method.

“In analyzing the splits of hundreds of competitive distance runners, it’s clear that personal records and breakthrough performances at distances from 800 meters to the 10K come only by getting out of your comfort zone and into your “Go Zone,” says McMillan.

Almost everyone who has set out to have a breakthrough race and come up short knows that the most critical stage of any race is when you’re about two thirds into it and facing the last third. This is the time that you are most vulnerable to falling off your pace. But with the right mindset, you’ll turn this into your Go Zone and your next races into breakthroughs.

McMillan asserts that a huge part of overcoming this has to do with your mindset. A great example of this is the California International Marathon. Known as a fast, flat course, runners from all over the country seek it out, and enter with the mindset that they are going to PR. And sure enough, a very high percentage of them do!

Obviously, there’s more than having high expectations. You have to execute a sound race strategy. At the starting gun, don’t make the rookie mistake of going out to fast. You see this time after time in high-school cross-country races, in part because runners want to break away from the crowded field. Big mistake.

Instead, head out fast but under control—right at your goal pace. Not only is this a proven strategy, but it helps set the overall feedback of perceived effort that you’ll carry through the next section of the race.

Now you’re getting into the middle miles and it’s time to relax and find your rhythm. Enjoy the feeling of your finely tuned body and feed off the energy of those running at around the same pace as you. Focus on feeling light and fast.

Past the half-way point, whether it’s a 10K or half-marathon, you may be edging out of your comfort zone at this point, and that’s not a bad thing. You’re racing after all. Embrace that feeling and stay with it. This is absolutely vital, as it’s at this point when many runners encounter a make-or-break situation and give in to fatigue.

As you enter the final miles, choose a point at which you’ll pick up the pace. You hear that right, instead of slowing down, you’re actually going to run faster. Don’t wait until the last 200 meters and sprint to the finish. You’re not going to gain much that way. Instead, begin your push from a good ways out. Part of what enables you to do this—despite physical discomfort—is the knowledge that the finish line is coming. You’d be surprised at what you have left if you’ve followed the initial race strategy to plan.

While you can’t knock it out of the park every time, a great pre-race mindset and a sound strategy (as outlined above) will help you to have more breakthrough races!

Upcoming races: Saturday, October 12, at 8:00 a.m., the Good Life Taylor 5K at Bull Branch Park in Taylor (Lynn and Davis St.). Saturday, October 26 at 7:30 a.m., the Hill Country Halloween Half at HEB Center, 2100 Avenue of the Stars, in Cedar Park.