6 Simple Steps to Create A Race Strategy - And Get A Free Pre-Race Checklist

A race strategy can significantly improve your race performances. And it takes just a few minutes to create.

It’s one of the key reasons for my Autumn 100 mile race win, Serpent Trail 100k race win and my 2nd place at the Wendover Woods 50 mile race. 

In this article you’ll get:

  • The benefits of creating a race strategy

  • 6 things to include in your race strategy

  • A FREE pre-race checklist

The checklist will help you think about exactly what you need to prepare, before and during the race.

And it has an example of my own checklist that I used for the Autumn 100 mile race win.

Simply press the button below and send me an email to get it.

What Are the Benefits of Creating A Race Strategy?

If you have a goal for an event, then you should have a plan to achieve it.

Once you’ve signed up for a race, one of the first steps should be to create a race strategy.

When you develop and execute your race plan, you’ll achieve your potential and run better races
— Active.com

There are lots of reasons to create a race strategy:

  • It Makes You Feel More in Control

A well-researched race strategy means you know what’s coming up on race day.

I try to make sure that there are as few surprises as possible in the days before the event and on the day itself.

Whether that’s nutrition, the route, terrain, aid stations or anything else.

A race strategy can help you think about these and plan for them.

  • It Makes Your Training More Effective

Most people jump into creating a training plan as soon as they have a race in the diary.

But doing this before you’ve created a race strategy can lead to less effective training.

Creating a race strategy early means that you will have a clear objective to aim for.

And that means that all your training should build towards that objective.

Every session will then have a very specific purpose. Rather than being randomly pulled together.

If you’d like help to create a training plan, contact me using the button below

  • It Allows You to be More Flexible on Race Day

As strange as it may sound, having a plan can actually mean you are more flexible on race day.

Rather than one goal, you can set multiple goals. For example, you could set A and B (and possibly, C) goals.

If things aren’t going to your ‘A’ plan, you can always aim for your ‘B’ or ‘C’ plan without panicking.

A lot of runners set one goal and panic if they are not on track for it. This impacts their entire race when they could have had a great result if they had a back-up goal to aim for.

What Should You Include in Your Race Strategy?

A race strategy can be as simple, or as complicated, as you like.

I would always say the simpler the better. As long as it’s thorough.

Here are the 6 things that I think you should include in your race strategy.

  1. Time-Based Goals

  2. Pacing Goals

  3. Kit and Equipment Strategy

  4. Nutrition Strategy

  5. Support Crew and Pacers

  6. The Pre-Race Build Up

You should create a draft version of your race strategy quite quickly after you sign up for your event.

That’s because your training plan should be based on all of these factors.

1) Time-Based Goals

Even if your goal is just to finish the event, your strategy will usually include a time-based goal.

Because all races have cut-off times!

I give myself, and the athletes that I coach, a range of times to target.

This is so that you can be flexible on race day, depending on how it is going.

You can set yourself three tiers of goals:

  • ‘A’ Goals - These are the times that everyone wants to achieve, every time. But they only happen when everything aligns nearly perfectly - training, pre-race prep, race day conditions, race day nutrition and everything else. These goals shouldn’t be impossible, but they should push you to your limits. These could be the goals that give you personal best (PB) times.

  • ‘B’ Goals - These are goals for when training has gone pretty well, but there have been some problems. Like a few weeks of missed training due to injuries or other life situations. Or when race day doesn’t go well.

  • ‘C’ Goals - These are goals for the times when training has gone pretty badly, but you’re still able to take part in the event and complete it. You probably won’t be achieving a PB with ‘C’ goals. And these may be times when you aim to ‘just complete’ an event.

Most of us set time-based goals, because we are usually trying to improve on our own previous performances.

But if you’re more experienced, you may set yourself ‘position-based’ goals instead.

This is where you care less about the time. For example, your ‘A’ goal might be to come first. Your ‘B’ goal might be to come on the podium and your ‘C’ goal might be to come in the top 10.

2) Pacing Goals

Once you’ve defined your time goals for the event, you should translate these to pace goals.

Pacing goals are even more important than the ‘time-based goals’ you set yourself in step 1.

Because they will be what you base your training plan on.

I’ve written about the 80/20 rule of training intensity before.

This is where 20% of your training should be done at a very tough pace. And 80% should be done at a very easy pace.

Your pacing goals you will help you to create specific training sessions

Lets looks at an example for an athlete whose ‘A’ goal is to run a 50k event in 5 hours.

They will need to average 10 kilometres an hour for 5 hours.

The 80/ 20 principle would mean that 20% of their training would be much, much harder than that pace.

For example, a speed-work session may require that the athlete run at 15-16 kilometres per hour for very short bursts.

It’s all about setting the right pace to get you to the finish in your fastest time with little energy left.
— PodiumRunner.com

One thing to be wary of with pacing goals, is that you shouldn’t rely on them too much in races.

This is because GPS watches are still not 100% accurate. And they often measure races too long or too short (or the race itself is too long or too short!).

Going back to our example of the athlete who needs to average 10 kilometres an hour - Their watch might say that they’re achieving that pace, but it might also show that the race is longer than 50k.

That means that they won’t hit their target time, even though they hit their target pace.

There are two ways to deal with this:

  1. Use the official race distance markers and timers - I advise athletes that I coach to check their progress against official race distance markers and official race clocks where possible. This can often be done at checkpoints.

  2. Build ‘buffer’ into your pacing strategy - By building a small buffer into your pacing goals, you can allow some things to go wrong on race day. For example, don’t aim to run at the pace that allows you to finish at the exact cut-off time. Because that gives you no room for errors on race day.

To add more complexity you can think about different ways to pace your race.

This article explains several factors to consider with your pacing - Including negative splits, positive splits, even-paced racing and more.

3) Kit and Equipment Strategy

This is one that a lot of athletes leave to the last minute.

But you need to have practised with the kit and equipment that you plan to use in races.

One of the first pieces of research you should do is to look at the race website and find out what kit is mandatory.

And then you need to work out what else you’d like.

This will change over the course of your training plan as you test new kit and equipment.

And, of course, the less you carry the better.

The biggest piece of advice I give to runners that I coach is not to try anything new on race day. Or very close to race day.

Trying new things on race day is one of the biggest mistakes runners make. Whether that’s new kit, new nutrition or a new pre-race build up.

This is a particular problem when there is a big exhibition before the event.

It can be tempting to buy those shiny new pair of trainers.

Or that piece of kit that everyone else seems to have.

But don’t do it!

You should practise with all your kit on training runs in the months leading up to the race.

And you can only do that by planning what you are going to use early on in your race strategy.

4) Nutrition

Just like with your kit, you should have practised your nutrition strategy that you’re going to use in the race.

Stick to what you know or suffer the very unpleasant GI distress consequences. That goes for your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks the day or two before the race.
— Active.com

This means trying out different food and drink in training. Especially on long training runs.

One big problem with ultra-running is that it’s very difficult to train at the distances that your races will be.

If you’re preparing for a 100 mile race, you won’t be able to train at that distance.

And this is where it is a good idea to have ‘B’ and ‘C’ races into your training plan.

These races are much less important than your main ‘A’ race. And they allow you to practise things in a real race setting. Even if the distance is shorter.

You can also do research to guide your nutrition choices for your race.

Take a look at the race website to find out what they offer. And what they offer at different points of the race.

Some races hand out different things later in races than they do earlier in races.

I made the mistake of not doing proper research for my first Ironman event back in 2010.

I made the mistake of not doing proper research for my first Ironman event back in 2010.

I knew that they handed out PowerBar bars during the race. And so throughout my training, I used these on my training rides and on runs.

But what I didn’t realise was that they handed out PowerBar bars on the bike section only.

They handed out PowerBar gels on the run.

I had no option but to use the gels for the run section. And it was the first time that I had ever used them.

Without getting too graphic, I spent a lot of time in the portaloos. And quite a lot of time walking very awkwardly due to a dodgy stomach!

Ideally, you would like to be able to use as much of the food and drink handed out in the race as possible. Because then you won’t have to prepare or carry as much food.

For example, I know that at Centurion running events they give out unsalted mixed nuts and raisins at aid stations. These work very well for me and so I can carry less food as I’ll be able to restock easily during the race

But, in most situations you’ll need to provide your own food and drink.

This is where very thorough drop bag preparation can be helpful. Because you can load up all the food and drink options you need. And you don’t have to rely on aid stations.

A checklist can help you plan what you need to pack in drop bags..

And you can claim your FREE pre-race checklist, by simply pressing the button below.

The checklist will help you think about exactly what you need to prepare before and during the race.

It covers kit, equipment and nutrition.

Plus it even includes an example of my own checklist that I used for my Autumn 100 mile race win.

5) Support Crew and Pacers

Your support team can be a big reason for achieving your race goals.

Calling myself “crew” was really an honor. This person placed enough trust in me to be part of a massive, meaningful goal.
— Erin Strout - Crew member for Rob Krar, winner of the Western States 100 mile race

They will be giving up a huge amount of time and effort for you.

And so it’s important to give them guidance for how to help you. This could include:

  • What’s your plan ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’?

  • Where on the course should they meet you? What time are you likely to be there? What are the rules for meeting you at aid stations?

  • What are the rules for support crew? What are they allowed to give you?

  • What would you like them to give you? At what point? Can they be flexible in what they give to you based on their perception of how you’re doing? Or does it have to be exactly what you’ve told them?

  • How much will you be stopping and interacting with them? If they’re not runners, they might expect you to stop and talk to them at every point.

  • Will you have pacers? Where should they meet you? What pace should they try to keep you at? How do you like to be motivated? With harsh words or kindness?

This article from RunUltra tells you the 5 rules of crewing. And this article from Runner’s World tells you how to crew for an ultramarathon in 6 easy steps.

6) The Pre-Race Build Up

After all those months of practising, preparing and planning, the big week arrives.

And it’s still really important to be at your best in those final few days.

Here are a few things to think about:

  • Get Enough Sleep

How will you ensure you get the maximum amount of sleep in the days leading up to the race?

It can often be difficult to get good sleep the night before a race because of nerves or last minute preparation.

Or because many ultra-marathons have very early starts.

But in the 3 or 4 nights before the race you can ‘bank’ some sleep by getting to bed earlier.

This could have a positive effect on your race performance, even if you don’t get much sleep the night before.

  • Eat and Drink the Right Things

What is going to be your ideal food and drink in the days leading up to the race? How can you prepare it so that you aren’t tempted to have anything else?

Specifically, what and where are you going to eat the night before the race and the morning of the race?

I’ve always found it easier to provide breakfast for myself on the morning of the race, even if I’m in a hotel.

Because they often won’t be serving breakfast at the early times you’re going to be waking up for an ultra-marathon.

  • Plan the Final Parts of Accommodation and Travel

Where are you going to stay before and after the event?

How are you going to get there? And how are you going to get to the race from your accommodation?

Accommodation for races usually book up very quickly. So you should think about this very soon after signing up. This avoids last minute stress near race day.

A lot of races don’t have space for cars to turn up and be left for the duration of an ultra-race.

Or you may not be in a position to drive after the race.

So think about whether there are other options. Including whether family or friends can take you home.

  • Find out the Pre-Race Requirements

What time do you need to sign up and collect equipment?

Is there a pre-race briefing? Is it mandatory? And is there any mandatory kit or equipment that you need to take with you?


  1. Creating a race strategy will help you achieve your race goals

  2. Create one shortly after you’ve signed up to your main race. Your strategy will then guide your training plan

  3. Think about these six areas - Time-based goals, pacing goals, kit and equipment, nutrition, support crew and the pre-race build up

Have You Ever Used A Race Strategy? How Did it Help You?

Let me know in the comments at the bottom of this blog, on the Contact Page or on social media below. 

Get the Latest Advice

Simply sign up with your email to get the latest updates, tips and advice straight to your inbox.

Plus, you’ll get a FREE training plan template.

The template will save you time, money and effort when creating your own plans.

What Did You Think Of This Article?

I would love to get your honest feedback about what you think about the articles on JamesRunsFar.com.

I can use your feedback to write blogs that what will help you achieve your goals.

Simply tell me what you think by filling in this 1 minute survey. 

What Should You Read Next?

Find Out about how I could  Help You Improve Your Performance  through coaching

Find Out about how I could Help You Improve Your Performance through coaching

How did I   prepare for the Autumn 100 mile race  , where I came 1st?!

How did I prepare for the Autumn 100 mile race, where I came 1st?!

Improve your performance  with my   personally recommended Kit, Nutrition and Gadgets

Improve your performance with my personally recommended Kit, Nutrition and Gadgets