Ed McNeely – Peak Centre for Human Performance
Physiologically running success is depends on VO2 max, lactate threshold and running economy. Most recreational racers and even sub elite competitive runners pay little attention to the other little things that can make or break a race. One of these factors is positioning and the line that you choose to run. We can learn an interesting lesson about this from the 800m and 5000m Olympic finals in Sydney in 2000. In a paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine Jones and Whip analyzed the paths run by the participants in these races.
The 800m race was won by Schumann in a time of 1:45.08, the second place finisher Kipketer finished in 1:45.14, making it a really tight race. During the race Shumann race as close to the cur as possible throughout the race and covered a total of 802m while Kipketer tried to stay out of the crowd and ran in lanes 2 and 3 for much of the race and covered 813m. Kipketer ran the race with an average velocity that was 0.1 m/s faster than the winner Schumann. If they had both covered exactly 800m Kipketer would have won gold by 1.36 seconds instead of finishing second.
In the 5000m final Wolde of Ethiopia won the race in a time of 13:35.49 covering a total of 5022m. The second place finisher Saidi-Sief of Algeria finished in a time of 13:36.20 covering a distance of 5028m. Saidi- Sief would have run the race in 13:31.65 compared to 13:31.91 for Wolde had they both covered exactly 5000m.
It should be clear from these two examples that the line you choose can have an impact on your performance and the outcome of a race. While you may not be doing your running on a track on race day taking the shortest route possible will be your best path to a personal best. Running a bad race line could also mean that you miss a personal best even though you worked your butt off and made big improvements in your fitness. If the race is local do a few of your training runs on the course so that you know where corners and curves are and how you can cut them as close as possible to improve your line. There are GPS systems available now that will help you track your path and let you compare it to an optimal path. If the race is not local try to walk or ride the course at least once before you race it and spend some time with course maps to figure out your best line. It may not sound like a big thing but why run any further than you have to in a race.
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