Tactical Races

Sunday 16th August 2015

Next weekend I will put my toes on the start line of the 5000m of the BMC Grand Prix at Solihull. I’m really looking forward to it and am very grateful that my entry was accepted despite my season’s best being outside the entry standard, but it’s going to be predictable. This is what will happen: the assigned pacemaker will stand near the starter and say something like ’68s OK boys?’ referring to the target time per lap. Someone will say yes and that will be it. The race will string out in single file ahead of me whilst I hang on for dear life at the back, either until I get cut adrift or until people whose early pace was too optimistic start coming back to me. No tactics, no thinking, just running as hard as I can from the gun. I will either run a PB or blow up trying, and limp home in a time I’m disappointed in. I know this because it happens every time.

Last Sunday I raced for my club in the final fixture of the Midland League season. I was in the 1500m and then the 3000m half an hour later, a tricky combination at the best of times, but even more so when you’ve only got back from holiday the day before. The wind was up so I suspected the race would start slowly. Sure enough, by the time we got to the first bend, we were in a tight pack, all looking to see what the others were doing. Jogging, it seemed.

This didn’t really suit me because I’m no sprinter and didn’t want it to turn into a 400 metre race. I wanted to get to the front and make a long push for home but was boxed on the inside of lane 1. We went through 800 outside my 5k pace and shortly after we did so a small gap appeared to my right. I stepped out, darted through the gap and ran as hard as I could, trying to distance myself from the field. I knew that this probably wouldn’t get me the win, but would at least take the sting out of some of the faster athletes. I was third in the end, a pleasing result, and probably better than I would have done if the pace had stayed slow for another lap. Half an hour later in similar coniditions, the 3000m went out slowly and we only really got going in the last km. Heavy legged from the 1500 I let two guys get away who I knew to be significantly faster then me, whilst making sure I did just enough to hold off the runners behind.

In both races I was constantly thinking, judging my effort, making decisions about what I should do to maximise my position. It was thrilling, and certainly added a dimension to the races. When watching athletics on TV you often hear commentators talking scornfully about tactical races, as if anyone who doesn’t run an ‘honest’ race is a disgrace to the sport. I disagree. These are the races I enjoy the most. They are less predictable and more exciting, both to watch and to be part of, and often throw up nice surprises. At the level I compete at, races where you have to make tactical decisions are rare and therefore even more interesting.

Time trials have their place, but give me a ‘dishonest’ tactical race anyday.

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