I’ve been coaching every level of runner for many years now. Something that I hear coming from runners at every level is the desire to “beat” someone. The nine-minute per mile 5K runner wants to beat someone who runs 8:30s. the five-minute per mile 5K runner wants to beat someone who is running 4:50s. The question becomes not one of desire but one of conditioning and physical capabilities first and only secondarily one of tactics and finally it’s all wrapped in motivation, desire and mental toughness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to want to beat someone and to be competitive. It keeps us moving forward and pursuing goals of running faster. But, merely wanting to beat someone is not enough. That is an ego thing working. So, let’s set the stage for how to beat that special someone in your life.
1. If your (you and your competition) race times are substantially disparate then you have to first narrow that gap. A positive thinking 5:00 miler will not beat a 4:45 miler. A motivated focused 21:00 5K runner will not beat a 20:00 5K runner. An inspired 1:45 half marathoner will not beat a 1:39 half marathoner. (…all things being equal – that is – the faster runners aren’t sick, jogging or injured). So, get in condition first. Train appropriately for the distance you want to challenge your opponent. And train the way you want to race. Pick a specific race & date to shoot for that assures that you are physically prepared to match up well.
2. If your times are comparable then you need to assess both of your strengths and weaknesses. How can you take advantage of your competition? Are better on hills? Do you have a superior kick? Do they have a tendency of going out too fast and fading? Can you negative split (faster last half than first half) a race? Are you better on more grueling courses? If you do not know your competition you cannot take advantage of their weaknesses. If you do not know yourself you cannot take advantage of your strengths.
3. Learn and practice the tactics you plan on using during the race. If your goal is to follow then make a move late in the race then you need to become comfortable with drafting (not running/racing side-by-side). It does not come natural. If you intend using your speed in the latter stages of a race, you have to practice running hard at the end of runs – in practice! If your competition goes out fast and fades you may want to take a disciplined approach and hunt them down. To become the consummate pacer and you want to click off even splits – you have to practice even pacing – all the while knowing you are reeling in your competition.
4. Mental toughness is the final element. You must train your mind to be strong and execute your training and tactics. You can be in shape and have the best tactics to succeed, but if you have not trained to be mentally tough you will fall short. You must be able to push through fatigue and discomfort to succeed.
So, don’t just talk about beating that special someone. Get in shape. Make a plan. Practice your plan. Execute your plan.