10 Jun

Starters Orders

Starters Orders

A few weeks ago, our regular contributor Chris Broadbent covered David Hellard's pursuit of leading London Marathon by the 400m point. Hellard, who is in the midst of attempting a six event challenge to raise funds for Street Child, managed to find himself top of the field - albeit temporarily - despite not starting level with the elite runners.

While Hellard's case stands on its own for being both unique and beneficial for the charity - Street Child helps some of Africa's most impoverished and vulnerable young people - it raises a wider question of starting positions at races.

Generally, larger events, such as the VLM, ask competitors to estimate their finishing time within a 15-30 minute slot. This means, in theory, that you will be placed in a pool of runners of similar ability, with the aim of decreasing congestion around the course.

For runners, one of the most frequently voiced bugbears is how their fellow participants miscalculate how long the race will take and hold the field up. A slow, crammed start can mean having to make up extra time later on in the race, and may put your pacing completely out of kilter. With every mile planned to fall within a 5-10 second window, any disruptions are likely to impair the possibility of a PB and put all the pre-race preparations in jeopardy.

At last year's Great Scottish Run, I positioned myself relatively close to the front with the hope of securing a time of under 1:30. By the point of reaching St. Vincent Street (less than 1 mile in), I was amazed at how many people had resorted to walking.

By the same token, one of my running buddies is a notoriously slow starter and invariably produces a negative split in a race. At Barcelona marathon in March, he purposefully registered for the 3:30-3:45 slot, knowing this time would suit his pace for the first section, and eventually finished in 3:22.

There's also a valid line of argument that when registering for an event months in advance its a great motivational tool to aim for a time faster than what you expect. This will give your training a specific target, and come race day, you will be pushed to stay within your field.

As ever, we're interested to hear your thoughts - should you always provide evidence that you can run a certain time before registering for a race? Or is this one of the appeals of running, that you're never quite sure what time you will finish? Let us know your comments on Facebook.