I went and watched a high school indoor meet today and saw some racing that made me cringe! So here is a little racing advice to help you reach peak performance. Its far from scientific or complicated, but very few follow the guidlines.
First, the shortest distance from point A to point B is a STRAIGHT LINE. In track, the idea is to run as close to the inside of lane 1 as possible without going over the inside rail. On a 400 meter track, each lane is 7 meters further per lap than the one to its inside if you start and finish at the same point. In 1600 meters (HS mile), that is an extra 28 meters or about 5 seconds for a 5:00 miler. Obviously, nobody is going to run an entire race in lane 2, but you get the point. If you must pass someone, try not to do it in the curve or you're adding extra distance, time, and effort to your race. Pass on one of the 100m straights to minimize extra running.
In cross country or road racing, I have seen olympic marathoners lose races because they ran poor tangents. Always keep your head up and look for the next turn. Sometimes running tangents can be difficult early in the race when there is a large croud, but its always best to try. In cross country, few people run the exact distance that the course is measured to be, because they run poor tangents.
Now for splits. For some reason, an abundance of runners, talented and untalented, like to sprint from the gun and run their first mile the fastest. I have seen runners go from 4:40 to 5:30, to 7:00 pace for a 5,000 cross country race on a flat course. If that same runner went out in 5:25, they could probably run close to that pace for the remainder of the race and run close to a minute faster. The key is to try to run even pace the entire race. An important aspect to understand is that a 5:00 first mile feels much easier than a 5:00 last mile, so effort will change. Depending on the length of the race and the runner's current ability, the pace should be run as close to their predicted average as possible. No good runner ever improves drastically from one race to another without other factors playing in, so do not get too ambitious with your estimations.
I like to find the first 100 or 200 meters and make a mark for my athlete. I tell them to hit that mark at the pace that I believe they can average based on how their workouts look. Those that hit that mark run much faster in the second half of the race and end up satisfied. Those that go out too fast end up in severe oxygen debt within the first mile and run a poor race.
So what about hills? How can you run an even pace if there is an 800 meter climb in the first mile?
I cannot tell you how many times I've heard coaches at all levels screaming at their athletes to surge up a hill within the first half of the race. I'm not sure where this strategy came in to play, but it is detrimental to the performance of the runner. The key to running early hills is to keep the effort the same as you had for your desired pace on flat surfaces. Obviously, you will slow down, but it will keep you from going into debt early and running slower the remainder of the race. Once you crest the hill, I teach my athletes to give themselves a mental que to get back into their pace. Some drop their arms and breath out forcefully; Others count 10 hard steps at the top. These strategies help them to beat more talented athletes.
However, second half hills can be different. Sometimes, you can insert strategy and pass a competitor forcefully on a hill and you will see the discouragement come across their face and their pace drop tremendously. Just be careful to make sure that you can finish the race at a respectable pace before you go sprinting up hills.
That pretty much sums up all of my main problems with racing today, but who knows, I might think of something else later. If you have any questions feel free to ask.
Also, read a few of these other articles that I agree with.