“Get up there on the line,” I find myself telling people at the start of races. It’s as if the starting line is going to bite. I was thinking about this the other night at Portland’s Starlight Run and I thought maybe there were some tips that I could pass along regarding the start of these quick races.In a 5K race, the start is critical because the faster runners are going to try to get out and get up to their racing pacing immediately. If you want to be in it, then you’ll need to do some things to avoid getting dropped right away. So here are five tips for starting your next 5K if you’re trying to be competitive.
1. Line up on the front line — Remember these tips are for those that want to be competitive. The first thing is to put yourself right on the front line, not two people back or five people back. If you think that you’re fast enough to run with the leaders, then get up there. If you put even a couple people between yourself and the starting line, you’ll just have to dodge around and through these people if you want to get up to the front once the race starts. This is wasted energy and time when the leaders will be peeling off ahead of you.
2. Elbows Out, Stand Your Ground — In a competitive 5K race where there a lots of fast runners, there will be a lot of jostling at the front of the race. Make a solid frame with your elbows slightly out and keep your feet under you. You don’t need to be throwing elbows at your competitors, but you want to use your elbows like bumpers. As someone gets in close to you, they will be pushed away, rather than crashing into you. In the photo here, you can see the contact the I’m making with the runner next to me. There are actually three frames of this scene. In the first two, ever so briefly we come together, and then in the last we have drifted back apart. Because my stance was strong, he didn’t push me over coming around the corner, which is the way it should work.
3. Find Some Clear Space to Run (or Tuck Yourself In) — The start of a 5K can be quite chaotic. Take a quick look around and decide whether the people around you are a help or hindrance. They can be either. On the one hand, if people are dodging and swerving and no one appears to be leading, you may want to move to an outside and find clear air in which to run. This is usually my approach. I like to set my own pace and see what’s happening. If someone makes a move at the front, I want to go with them — and if I’m stuck in traffic it may be too late. On the other hand, there are races in which the front is organized and working together. In those races, sticking yourself right behind a few good runners will give you a chance to let others do the pace making.
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