3200m Race Strategy

by Adam
(NY)


I am a 16 year old junior in high school who is currently enrolled in indoor track. I have been running ever since I entered high school and have excellent coaches who really know what they're talking about.

My mile PR is 4:58 and my 3,200 PR is 10:48 (indoors) and 10:34 outdoors. My problem is that I never really go into a 3200 feeling confident about what I'm about to do.

If it's at all possible, could you give me a lap-by-lap strategy for the 3,200 that would help produce the best time?

I'm in excellent physical condition and I feel like I can probably get my time down to 10:20 or so.

What do you think?


3200m race strategy
Answer by Dominique:
Hi there,
Thanks for your excellent race strategy question.

It's a tough one. The good thing is that you are thinking about your race strategy. In addition to my answer below I would definitely recommend also talking to your coaches about what they think is good strategy for you and what is not. It sounds like you trust them and they know what they are doing.

My thoughts on this are:

1. Things that are more important than race strategy
2. A lap by lap summary when just focusing on Your race
3. Things to consider when you are racing others


Things that are More Important Than Race Strategy



You are a fast runner. And I think you know this. But let's be clear: race strategy is the icing on the cake.

More important than that is your training. Increasing your mileage, proper periodization, good sleep and recovery, etc. etc.

We can talk about strategy all we want, but it only becomes a game changer when you have pretty much optimised every other aspect of your running.

A Lap by Lap Summary When You Are Just Focusing on Your Race



Let's ignore competitors for now, or any race tactics you'd want to employ (a little bit more about in the next section).

Generally speaking, you usually produce your best times when you run even splits or negative splits, i.e. every lap equally fast (even), or the last laps faster than the first laps (negative splits).

You basically want to not blow your chances by going out too fast, leaving you empty at the end. Especially young runners sometimes lack a little bit of discipline and run their first lap way, way, way too fast. And then end up paying for it the next seven.


3200m race strategy
You want to be able to conserve some energy so that you have enough in you to keep on going strongly till the end, possibly even with a little acceleration in the final laps or a full-on sprint at the end. But you want to have the tank empty at the finish line.

This requires a lot of practice and knowing your abilities.

The lap-by-lap summary is something like this for a 3,200m race:

Part 1. Lap 1-4 - stay disciplined, run at your planned goal pace.

Part 2. Lap 5-6 - things are starting to hurt. This is the part where you quite consciously need to build up the intensity to keep on running at the same speed. This is often where you'd lose time when you are not careful.

Part 3. Lap 7-8 - This is "go hell for leather" time. The intensity increases again. Because the end is in sight, this is generally where you find that last little bit of reserve that you did not know was there.

This should help you when you are "just" running for time.

Things to Consider When You are Racing Others



Now, things become a little different when you are running to win a race and you are more focused on opponents. Things are more complicated then.

You'd have to know if you are a fast finisher. Can you rely on your final kick in the last 200m to bring it home or do you need a longer "war of attrition" to run your opponents into the ground?

You may be the faster runner, but if somebody running along with you is the better sprinter, they may just be able to stay in your tracks and beat you on the last half lap.

You also need to take into account your position in the race. If you are doing perfect even splits and feeling strong, but you are stuck on the inside of the track with people around you, it's going to get tough to break out and win the race.

So, when running evenly you may have to do little sprints or slowing down a little to get into a good position towards the end of the race. You don't want to be closed in in the last lap.

Same if you are in position 1, which leaves you vulnerable to people behind you surprising you. If you are not a strong sprinter, then you may need to be in position 1 though in order to not get beaten by guys who have a stronger final kick.

So, you need to analyse what your strengths and weaknesses are and what would give you the best chances of running the best time and beating the others.

The most important part is having a race strategy and deciding what to do in different situations before your race so you are confident and calm going into the race. Your plan may be roughly as follows:

  • Run 1 min 18 sec laps (for a 10:24 goal time).


  • If people start off significantly faster than that, let them go, having confidence that in the later laps you will catch them back.


  • When it comes to the last lap and a half, make sure that I don't get closed in. If necessary accelerate a few seconds to prevent this.


  • If I find myself in first position, then make sure to slow down and conserve energy and drop back one spot trusting my strong finish.


  • Etc.

    What many top athletes do in addition to their physical training is that they do a lot of mental training as well. They live through a race a hundred times before they actually run it, thinking through every scenario and how to react to it.

    The important thing with that kind of mental training is to think positively, i.e. to believe in your own strength and capabilities. This can make it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. You sometimes hear them say after a great performance: "I knew exactly what I was going to do and how I needed to win this race. It was just a matter of execution."

    Try to get into that kind of mindset with tough training and you will be able to run better more confident races than you have done so far.

    Best of luck.
    Kind regards,
    Dominique

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