When to explode off the line, and when to save your best for later.
Whether the tortoise or the hare wins the race is the subject of much debate. The answer usually depends on some mix of race length and your individual preference. In short races, a fast start is usually required, if you’re to have any hope of performing at your best. In longer races, the answer is more likely decided by personal preference and experience, with many runners opting for a conservative start.
Fast Starts and Shorter Races
In these shorter efforts, your starting speed is a tactical concern. In order to run unimpeded, you must be able to get to the front of the race, or at least to the group of runners who are at your level, with as little wasted time as possible. This will require careful consideration of your starting position. If your position is too far back, you’ll be faced with lost time trying to pass droves of runners during the most congested early minutes of the race. If your position is too far forward, you risk being one of these impediments yourself. You also risk being lured into a faster pace than you can sustain.
In most mass-start local races, where runners are free to choose their starting position, you’ll have to make an educated guess to find the right spot. In higher level races, starting position will probably be chosen for you.
Getting into the best position after the start of the race typcially requires an explosive effort. Your interval training will be invaluable here. As will being well warmed up. The shorter the race, the more critical your pre-race warmup. Make sure you arrive in time to prepare yourself. It’s also important in these races that you quickly settle into a sustainable pace after the opening salvo.
Slow Starts and Longer Races
The longer the race, the less critical your starting position. Choices must be made based on knowledge of your body gleaned during training and previous races. Most runners choose a conservative approach, starting the race at a slightly slower pace than what they think they can sustain. They’re then able to take stock of their body’s state somewhere around the halfway or two-thirds mark, and decide how hard to push for the remaining miles.
This may lead to a “negative split” time, wherein you actually average a higher speed during the second half of the race. This demonstrates discipline and control, and will often lead to your best overall time—because you’re sparing yourself the slowdown that comes from late-race exhaustion.
Ultimately, you’re going to have to experiment. No one but you can know if the tortoise or the hare will be your winning role model.