It’s a few years now since Christine Ohuruogu came out of nowhere to win the 2007 World Championships 400m in Osaka. When I say “came out of nowhere,” I don’t mean that nobody had heard of her. I mean in the race itself, she seemed completely beaten, but smashed into the finishing line as if she was never going to stop.
Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECwpJlnIr4c
Watch her out in lane six. On her outside, Novlene Williams goes out like a train, but Christine doesn’t react. After 200m Natalya Antyukh goes by on the inside, and still Christine doesn’t panic. She is running her own race.
Coming into the home straight, she’s down on the leaders, but here’s where her pacing pays off. The others are tiring and Christine looks easy. She comes through to win, but watch her in that last 50m: she is not flapping around, her form is good (especially compared to Williams), and she is just running the race she always planned to run.
So what can an endurance triathlete learn from a 400m runner? The answer is that we could all focus more on our own race, and less on the race of those around us.
I remember racing a low key club duathlon a couple of years ago. Feeling great on the start line, I started fast and still felt great after a couple of minutes. I was mixing it at the front with some of the faster runners in the club. “At last,” I stupidly told myself, “all my training has clicked in and I have clearly become 30 seconds per km faster overnight.”
After another minute I was breathing through my ears, and the rest of the race was a frustrating struggle. I ended up a lot further down the field than I would have expected to be.
The problem was that I got carried away with the fast runners and forgot to race my own race. I was racing some other bloke’s race. Disaster.
We did an experimental running session at our club recently. The session was 8 x 500m at race pace, and my challenge to the athletes was to maintain the same pace for each 500m throughout the set. This was reasonably straight forward until we added some distraction into the equation.
I asked a couple of faster runners to run fast through the pack so they were overtaking people who weren’t expecting to be overtaken. It was fascinating to see how many of the group subconsciously got faster for that 500m rep and ended up losing their consistent pacing.
There is obviously something deep within our biology that makes us competitive. Sometimes it serves us well to override those instincts and engage that other biological necessity: self preservation!
By the time you get to race day, you should have a good idea of what you are capable of, what is a sensible pace, and what you can sustain. If you have spent months preparing to race at that pace then RACE AT THAT PACE!! Don’t get carried away and chase that old bloke who overtakes you.
Be like Christine O and race your own race.