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3200m Race Strategy

by Adam

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?

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. They sound like they know what they are talking about.

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. 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 and those of your opponents. 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 at position 4 or 5 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.

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 before your race. Your plan may be roughly as follows:

  • Run 1 min 18 sec laps.

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

  • 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.

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    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,

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