Common Racing Problems

By Rick Morris

The perfect race or training workout is a rare occurrence. There is nearly always some phase of your running  that could use some improvement. There are some common racing problems. Maybe the early miles go well but you have problems finishing strongly. You may have trouble maintaining a quality pace in the middle of your races. Perhaps you have blazing speed but tend to fatigue quickly.

If there is any part of your racing or running that you’re not happy with, don’t worry. It’s not a permanent problem, you just need to fine tune your training program. If you are a competitive runner you’re almost certainly following some sort of periodized training program. You’re probably doing some combination of easy endurance runs, lactate threshold workouts, tempo runs, speed runs, hill running and strength training on a fairly consistent basis. You already have a head start on solving common racing problems.

There are many different ways to build a periodized training program. Some runners follow a classic periodization scheme of base endurance training followed by stamina building tempo runs and speed building interval training. Others may follow a year round multi pace plan or a combination of those periodization schemes. No matter what type of periodization scheme you follow there is one additional step you should be taking – fine tuning.

Fine tuning is a simple matter of analyzing your running performance and adjusting your training schedule to improve your areas of weakness. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you lacking endurance? Is your stamina level low? Do you need more speed and power? Once you know the areas you need to work on it’s a simple matter to begin to concentrate on improving those systems.

Here are some common racing problems and the steps to fine tune your training program.

Problems Holding Pace During 5K to Half Marathon Races

Slowing down in the second half of your races may be caused by race management. If you start out too fast you may be reaching high levels of fatigue early in your race that you’re unable to recover from. Try to keep your adrenaline in check early in the race and stay within your planned pace. If race management isn’t the problem you should consider focusing more on negative split training and lactate turn point training. Both of these types of training will develop your physical and mental ability to hold a quality pace when you reach a high level of fatigue and are running at or faster than your lactate turn point.

Problems Holding Pace During a Marathon

Running negative splits is a good strategy with shorter 5K and 10K racing. Negative splitting can also be a successful strategy with marathon racing but most marathoners will do better with even pacing during a marathon. Are you having problems holding your race pace during the final miles of your marathon? You’re not alone. The vast majority of marathon runners slow drastically during the last miles of a marathon. Can you train to avoid that marathon slow down? Yep – you can. The best way to train your body to hold race pace in those final 3 to 8 miles is by doing fast finish long runs during training. Fast finish marathon long runs will mimic the condition of your body in the actual race and will prepare you to stay strong both physically and mentally in the final miles.

Struggling During the Middle Miles of 5K to Half Marathon Races

The middle miles of 5K to half marathon races have become the forgotten child of distance running. Many runners concentrate on opening speed and finishing strong but pay little attention to those all important middle miles. You should be able to maintain a strong pace with little difficulty during the middle miles. If you can’t you may be lacking in stamina, endurance or combination of the two. Try to extend the distance of your weekly long run to build your endurance. To improve your stamina place more focus on extending the distance of a weekly tempo run.

Struggling During the Middle Miles of a Marathon

If you are properly trained, you should be on cruise control during the middle miles of your marathon. If your middle marathon miles feel difficult you are almost certainly lacking in both stamina and your ability to run at goal pace. Increase your concentration on long tempo runs and longer marathon goal pace workouts.

Poor Finishing Kick in Races

Don’t you just hate getting out kicked at the end of a race? It’s much better to be the kicker than the kickee! Make sure you are the one doing the kicking by including sprint finishes in all of your workouts. Add 200 to 400 meter sprint finishes to all of your training runs from long endurance runs to interval training. The sprint finishes will improve your foot speed and your ability to kick when fatigued.

Lack of Speed in Races

Racing is all about speed. If you don’t have it you’ll have problems performing to the best of your ability. To race fast you need to train fast. Many distance runners fall into the trap of doing lots of long slow distance running but very little fast interval training. If you need to boost your speed start doing two to three workouts per week at 10K pace or faster. The high quality speed training will compliment your long slow endurance training and improve your overall speed and performance level.

Stride Problems During the Final Miles of Races

After you finish your next race stick around the finish line and watch the strides of the finishers. You will probably notice that the majority of the runners don’t look great as the pass over the finish line. Their strides are breaking down and looking ugly. Running strides tend to break down and become very inefficient when running muscles aren’t strong enough to overcome fatigue levels and maintain structural integrity. To avoid end of race stride problems you need to strengthen those muscles. You can do that in two ways – strength training and hill running. Strength training will provide a good strong base of muscular strength and hill running will improve both your functional strength and running economy.

Problems Running on Hills

I love a race with lots of hills. I love a hilly race because I am a strong hill runner. Most runners are weak on hills and I am able to gain a significant advantage. Why are some runners stronger on hills than others? It’s really a no brainer! Strong hill runners do a lot of their training on hills. If you are a weak hill runner try to do at least one workout per week on hills or on an inclined treadmill.

Excessive Fatigue During Interval Training Sessions

You race performance depends upon the quality of your training sessions. If you can’t complete high quality training workouts you’ll never reach your peak potential. A good example is your interval training on the track. Do you have problems completing your interval routine? If so, you may be lacking both endurance and stamina. Increase the distance of your weekly long run and do more tempo and lactate turn point training. The quality of your interval training will improve along with your race performance.

Performance Levels Dropping

Despite all of your hard training, your performance levels are dropping. You believe you’re doing all of the right things during training but your race performance keeps getting worse. What the heck is going on? Do you need to train harder? Maybe not. You may be over reaching or over training. One of the first signs of over training syndrome is an unexpected decrease in race performance. Try taking a few days completely off and reducing your level of training for two to three weeks. Then get back into training and see if your race performance comes back up. This is especially important if you see any of the other signs of over training such as elevated resting heart rate, chronic fatigue or frequent illness.