When it comes right down to it, racing is very simple: Get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible along a prescribed course. Obviously, if you are going for a fast time you don’t want to run any farther than you have to, right? Well, actually that’s not completely true, as I’ll explain a bit later, but runniAll Postsng the shortest allowable route is a basic element of racing, and it’s often referred to as “running the tangents.”
Figure 1: Middle of the Road
Imagine running down a two-lane road. You could run right down the middle, following the center line all the way. This would lead you on a pleasant, gently winding tour along the crown of the asphalt, but you would be running a lot farther than necessary, and making more turns than necessary too.
In contrast, you could save time by running the tangents, that is, “straightening” the road by taking a more direct path from corner to corner and using the entire width of the pavement. Not only will the distance be decreased, but by making fewer turns you can maintain your pace and momentum much more efficiently.
And efficiency is really the key to racing. Getting from start to finish as quickly as possible and running the tangents well is actually more a matter of taking the most efficient route, not necessarily the straightest or shortest route. “Say what?!” you ask.
Well, sometimes taking the tightest turn forces you to slow down, and sometimes running the straightest line to Point X causes you to take a longer or slower route to Point Y. So, if you can, try to look at least two turns ahead and think about the best way to negotiate the entire section, not just the upcoming curve alone.
For example, many times it’s better to approach a turn from the outside and take it in a wide, sweeping, smooth arc, rather than cut it tight and change your stride.
Think about approaching a turn-around cone on an out-and-back course: I see a lot of runners run right up to the cone and do a little stutter step around it, slowing way down and having to accelerate again as they head back the other way.
That’s great for square dancing, less good for racing.
I try to approach from the outside of the road and make a wide turn to the other side, passing the cone only briefly. I end up running a slightly longer distance, but I lose less speed and maintain my momentum much better, resulting in an overall net gain.
There’s really no “right way” to run the tangents. The main thing is to find the perfect balance between the shortest route and maintaining the fastest pace. (While staying on the route, of course … don’t include a parking lot in your “tangent” unless a volunteer points you that way.) And for me, assessing the upcoming turns on the fly and seeking that balance is a large part of the fun of road racing.
(Thanks to Run Oregon reader smidelights1 for the idea for this post.)