When Race Strategy Fails by DJ Hicks


[DJ Hicks is a recent graduate of Houston Baptist University and the Athletic Lab Coaches Mentorship at Athletic Lab. DJ is currently an assistant coach at Valparaiso University]

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

dj-hicksRace strategies exist for the purpose of maximizing an individual athlete’s specific qualities in order to enhance his or her potential for success in any given race. Those who excel in “turnover” are oftentimes instructed to take a commanding lead early on in order to establish position, whereas those who possess other endurance-based qualities may prefer to begin a race in a much more conservative manner and come on strong towards the end. Regardless of method, the goal is always to cover the set distance in the fastest and most efficient way possible, and the best way to reach this goal is determined by each athlete’s individual strengths.

The problem is that race strategies rarely go according to plan. Races can get taken out either too slow or too fast, staggers are broken quickly in the 200 and 400m, runners get boxed in, and factors such as wind and weather affect performance. These issues occur frequently and can lead to a runner feeling uncomfortable. Once a runner is uncomfortable or unsure about the way a race is going, two choices present themselves: stick to the plan or adapt.

In most cases, sticking to a well-thought-out plan is a good idea. Who cares if an inside runner breaks the stagger quickly or if the race is taken out too fast? Trust your training and run your race. However, when issues like boxes and unfavorable wind occur, the ability to adapt is crucial.

Because athletes rarely get their ideal conditions on race day, having the ability to adapt outside of one’s comfort zone is key. Repeatedly practicing a single strategy may provide athletes with a feeling of familiarity or comfort, but experimenting with different race strategies is the best way to improve adaptability. Additionally, embracing opportunities to practice in unfavorable weather conditions can prove helpful in the long run. On race day, not every starter will turn the 100/110mh the opposite direction because of the nasty 20mph head wind and not every race will allow you to run the way you trained.

It’s not about having an exact remedy for any issue that might arise on race day, but about possessing the ability to successfully manage whatever obstacle presents itself. By preparing for unfavorable conditions, athletes will know the best method for maximizing their performance on race day.