Racing Reflections

Callum Hawkins had a brilliant run in the World Championship Marathon last night. If you didn’t stay up to watch it, it’s worth a catch up.

He very nearly bagged a medal against a high-quality field of runners (mostly East African) who had PBs 5 minutes quicker than his. Having been at one point over 20 seconds off the lead pack, he closed the gap over the final miles to pull into the lead with 1km to go. He could not quite match their final push, but it was a magnificent effort.

Whenever I watch a race like that I try and think what we, as non-elite club runners, can learn from it. The way the race played out was that (after a mad solo run from a Paraguayan at the start) a group of runners put on a big surge after about an hour (dropping a 2:50km!!) to create the breakaway. Hawkins did not go with this but kept a much more even pace as the front group continued a pattern of surges then slowing. He then slowly reeled them in one by one as they suffered for their earlier efforts. If he had gone with them when they first sped up, would he have still been in touch at the end and maybe even picked up a medal? I doubt it – pushing that hard at that point in the race would have taken a lot of energy (remember his marathon PB is a lot slower) and it is very difficult to recover that energy once spent. He knew he had to measure his effort more evenly and save his push until late to have any chance of competing.

Now, most of us are rarely, if ever, in the position of competing for a medal but we can apply the same strategy to our races (especially half and full marathons). Even pacing and measuring your effort over the duration of the race will always pay dividends (nothing new in that). But more importantly is having the discipline, like Hawkins, to stick to your plan, trust your training (my favourite saying) and execute even if things change around you. Last night it was the other runners putting in surges and pushing the pace super hard, for you it might just be that you get to the halfway point of a marathon on pace and feel so super amazing that you think you’ll drop in some quicker miles all of a sudden! Or you might be cruising along perfectly at mile 6 in your half marathon and a large group comes past moving quite a bit quicker and you decide to try and tag along with them. Of course, I’m not saying never chance your arm, throw caution to the wind and see what you can do; but this is a risky strategy, and which becomes ever more so the further the race. Assuming I’ve gauged well from my training what a realistic goal time is, I’d rather play the odds to reach it, especially if it’s an “A” race in a cycle (more about that subject soon!).

So, congratulations to Hawkins on a race well executed. We can all take great inspiration from that!