How to Tackle Small Community Races and Come Out Ahead of the Pack…

I have to admit this year has been pivotal for me in how I’m running, but also in the races I am choosing to run.  Prior to this year, the smallest race I’ve done is the Turkey Trot in Downtown Pittsburgh, which still elicits a pretty hefty crowd.  Now living in the middle of the suburbs, I’ve gotten a chance to conquer a couple of “community races.”

Although at first glance I have to say I wasn’t as excited with the smaller crowds and merger swag, but I have now converted to be a huge fan of these races.  If you are thinking of crossing over, here are a couple of tricks of the trade that you should know.

Before the Race:

1.  Pre-register and pick up your packet the day before if all possible.  Community races don’t have nearly the amount of staff/volunteers as the larger races.  You don’t need the extra stress of waiting in a line on race day, which doesn’t move fast because everyone knows everyone.
2.  Pay extra attention to the race map (if one is available).  Often times, there are no complimentary water stations at community races so if you are a camel like me, bring your beverage of choice.  There is no worse feeling then really wanting a drink when one isn’t available.
3.  Try to ask someone (even if it is a couple minutes before the race) about the course.  Many of the participants live in town and they can give you helpful tips about where you may encounter grades and where the course is flat.  You may also want to ask them about landmarks you should look out for that will help you to gauge your time better (as some community races don’t have mile markers).
4.  Bring music.  Although your loved one(s) may come and watch you, these could be the only spectators.  Community runs are notorious for not having the spectator support that larger runs have.  Be ready for this.

On Race Day:

1.  If you are running for time and you are somewhat of a decent runner, go to the front.  I actually made this very mistake this morning at the Hohokus 5K.  They had specific mile time balloons posted and people were supposed to line up by their mile time.  Well, virtually no one except for me, really did.  I was next to strollers, walkers and kids too young to walk let alone run.  It probably cost me about a minute or so on my time.
2.  Spend your first mile passing as many people as possible.  Make it a game for yourself.  I did this this morning and was pleasantly surprised when I crossed the first mile marker at a little under 8:30.
3.  Spend your next miles eyeing a runner who is just a little bit faster and your goal is to catch them.
4.  Throw some tempo runs in throughout the race.  Whether this is every time you hit a grade or a landmark, a couple of tempo runs will help shave valuable time off your race.
5.  Watch out for kids and cars.  Even though the race is official sometimes the road is not completely closed off.  Cars can breeze through the course even if they are not supposed to so be on the look out.  Many kids also run these races and although they can be very speedy at certain points during the race, they also tend to stop and slow down without any warning.  The last thing you want to do is fall on top of a kid.

All and all if you haven’t yet tried one of these races, I highly suggest that you do.  With the smaller crowds and by following the tips I provided above, I PRed today at the Hohokus 5K with 27 minutes flat (8:41 splits).  When you run smaller community races, you also have a better chance of placing and you get the satisfaction of a better overall finish.  (I was 187 overall and in the top 12-14% of all racers, which I think is pretty darn good considering there were between 1300 and 1500 racers).  On a lighter note, I also learned that if I ever commit a crime (which I am not planning to every do), Hohokus might be a good place because I outran the police force, who also participated in the race, by at least 5 minutes!

Until next time, happy running all!

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