This week, our team has its third invitational of the track season. Only about half of the team ran in the first two because many runners had only been running for a couple of weeks. But this week, almost everyone will be running.
The newest runners on the team are, of course, just learning how to run the 1600 properly. Indeed, running this distance is a skill that has to be practiced in order to succeed. I put together a list of tips for those of you who are new to this race.
1. The Start.
At the beginning of every race, your body has about 5 seconds worth of the kind of "fuel" that powers intense running, like sprinting. That fuel source is not available after the first 5 seconds of the race, even if you don't start fast, so you might as well use it. So start quickly, but only for about 4-5 seconds. After that, settle into your race pace.
2. The First Lap.
Let the other runners go. Unless you're a freak of nature, you probably will be running with other inexperienced runners, and almost everyone runs way too fast for the first lap, then dies later on. One of the hardest things to do as a runner is to trust that you will catch up to other runners later, but it WILL happen if you run the correct pace on your first lap. Because of the adrenaline surge you'll get from the excitement of the beginning of the race, you will NOT run the first lap too slowly. It just won't happen. But if you run this lap correctly, you actually come through in a time a little faster than your desired average pace. Here's why:
Let's say your plan is to run 6:00 - that's an average of 90 seconds per lap. If you run the first 5 seconds "fast," you will cover about 30 meters. Let's say you then settle into a slower pace and actually complete the first lap in 90 seconds. Perfect, right? Well, not really. If you do the math, you'll realize that you are now running at a pace of 92 seconds per lap (because part of the lap was run at a faster pace). So you actually would want to finish the first lap about 1-2 seconds faster than your desired average pace, so in 88 or 89 seconds. Now, if you did that, you will start your second lap actually running at 90-second pace.
3. The Second Lap.
As long as you ran the first lap correctly, you should be able to maintain your pace on the second lap. However, you will probably have to consciously work in order to do it, as opposed to the first lap, which should have felt easy.
4. The Third Lap.
This is the hardest lap of the "mile" because you're tired, and you're thinking about how much farther you still have to go. Almost everyone slows down on this lap, and your goal is to minimize that slowing. So when you get to the back straight, focus on trying to speed up and catch other runners. Try to beat one or more runners to the beginning of the curve (since it's harder to pass on a curve - you don't want to get stuck behind someone who is slowing down). You may still be slowing down slightly, but if you ran the first two laps correctly, you will be slowing down less than others, so you'll overtake them. Also, most newer runners have a mindset that they'll run a little easier on the third lap, thinking that they should "save" something for the final lap. Don't do that. If you try to catch and pass people instead, you will probably only slow down by a second or two, hitting a 91 or 92, leaving you right on 90-second pace.
5. The Fourth Lap.
This is when you simply run as hard as you can manage. Actually, I recommend starting your "kick" on the home straight before you begin the fourth lap. You don't want to get stuck behind other runners on the first curve of the final lap, so try to race people to the curve. If you follow this plan, you will certainly not run slower than 6:00, and will likely beat that by a couple of seconds as your adrenaline kicks in as you sprint for the finish line.
That's it - congrats!