Race strategies are always a difficult topic because there are so many variables that play a role in the perfect strategy, and a successful outcome.
So much of an effective race strategy depends on your athletes, their running style, their strengths, their weaknesses. Only you, as coach, can determine this through close observation and from the history you have coaching them, as you’ve seen them at their best, and their worst.
Another key factor in determining a race strategy is the competition. The strategy will most likely change based on whether the competition is a known front runner, or a sit back and wait type.
With that being said, there are certainly some best practices that can be highlighted when preparing for mid to long distance races in high school. There are two types of runners who usually compete in these distances in high school:
- The pure mid distance runner, who has quite a bit of speed, and is comfortable stepping down to the 400m for a relay or even to race. They are a strong performer in the 1600m or mile run as well, but this is getting to the edge of their comfort zone in terms of length. You can throw them into a 3200m or two mile on occasion as a longer strength building exercise, and they might out kick 5 people in the last 300m, but they are not overly competitive at this distance.
- The long distance preferred runner, who enjoys the grueling nature of the 3200m or 2 mile, enjoys the slower onslaught of pain as they near the bell lap. This runner might even be better suited for cross country distances and style of racing, but on the track they excel in the 3200 meter / 2 mile, and are still competitive at the 1600 meter / mile distance as well. They might be a member of your 4x800m relay, but the only way they can compete at this distance is to run close to flat out from the start, since their speed is most often not in line with other 800m specialists.
Now obviously, there’s quite a bit of variance here, this is not black and white, you’re either this or you’re that. You might have some athletes with tremendous speed, who can sit back of the lead pack in both the 800 meter as well as the mile or 2 mile, and unleash a ferocious kick in the final 2 turns.
However, these runners are outliers, far less common. So for our purposes, we’ll focus on the these 2 main classes of runners, pure mid distance and pure long distance and the type of strategies you can employ for optimal race day performance.