It happens. You’ve been training for this race for months, but you cross the finish line just seconds shy of your PR. Frustrated isn’t the word. What do you have to do to beat yourself? Glad you asked. Top coaches, researchers and pro athletes give us the inside training secrets to make your next race—whether it’s a 5K, a 10K or a marathon—your fastest.

During Training

1. Focus on one leg at a time. “It’s not uncommon for athletes to have up to a 20 percent difference of power between limbs,” said Joseph Potts, coach for Jenna Caffrey, NCAA All-American and All-Big XII hurdler from Iowa State. “And a chain is only as strong—and fast—as its weakest link.” Try to minimize those differences with exercises that focus on strengthening each leg individually, such as lunge variations and step-ups.

2. Do stride-outs. After easy runs, add on 100-meter intervals, increasing your speed to nearly a sprint. “This will activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers, giving you more speed on race day,” said Rebekah Mayer, the national training manager for Life Time Run. Start with four stride-outs, and build up to six or eight, depending on your experience and mileage.

3. Then add hills. “I add in 100-meter sprints up hills when I’m training, to ensure that I have some speed for the end of races,” said Angela Bizzarri, the 2010 NCAA indoor 3,000-meter champion.

On Race Day

4. At the end of a race, look for the color red. A 2011 study in the journal Emotion found that when people see the color red, their physical reactions are faster, because red is a danger cue, says coauthor Andrew Elliot, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. Focus on a runner ahead of you in a red jersey for a short burst of extra speed.

5. Drink just enough. A December 2010 study found that runners who drink too much water, or not enough, during a race had a slower race time than those who drank the exact amount needed to stay optimally hydrated. Why? Those who drank too much didn’t lose enough weight during the race to perform at their fastest, says lead researcher Dr. Timothy Noakes, health professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “Drink just enough to quench your thirst,” he said. “Any more or less impairs performance.”

6. Repeat this phrase: “I can do it!” When you hit the wall, the negative thoughts start flowing: “I’m exhausted,” “I can’t do this,” or “This hill is never going to end.” Believe or not, those words have power and can actually slow you down, says Chris Janzen, author of “Run Faster Now!” “You switch your counter-productive language into empowering thoughts,” he said. Think: “I’m full of energy,” “I can do this,” and “This hill is easy,” to get some immediate pep in your step and finish strong.

By Colleen Oakley

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