It happens at every race. You start running and end up passing people going minutes per mile slower than you. Meanwhile someone else much faster sprints by. How did so many people at different paces get mixed together?
Corrals are supposed to sort runners into appropriate pace groups, especially at large races. They help to manage the flow of runners and guarantee that everyone moves forward at the same speed, without roadblocks. Often this requires runners to either estimate or provide proof of a previous finish time. Then either the race or the individual runner can choose what corral or pace group corresponds to their time.
“Be honest,” says Susan Paul, training program director for Track Shack in Orlando. “And you have to kind of hope that everyone else is honest too.”
Being honest means you should not try to start in a faster corral than the pace you plan to run. This includes positioning yourself within that corral. If you think you’re at the slower end, go to the back. For runners who plan to go faster, then stand to the front of the corral.
“If you’re not lined up in the corral you should be in, it can affect others,” says Madora Mak, an event manager for the Rock n’ Roll Marathon Series.
If you’ve raced recently, this can be a fairly simple process. You likely know approximately what finish time you should expect. If you have never raced before, then Mak recommends doing some long runs at race pace or even a shorter practice race, so you know what your predicted time is. For example, you might run a half marathon a month or so before your goal marathon.
Paul also agrees that a practice race is a good idea if your goal race requires proof of time to get into the corral you want—as many big races do. You can often change or update your corral in the days leading up to the race or at the expo.
That doesn’t mean you can’t run faster than you predict. If you’re going for a PR that’s much quicker than your previous or predicted times, then you will likely want to be near the front of your corral. Most corrals have a wide range of runners within them. Plus, if you have to start out slightly slower, it could actually lead to a better race.
“Think of the corral as setting yourself up for a negative split,” Paul says.
The danger on the road comes when people’s predictions are exceptionally far off. Some runners often practice poor race etiquette, such as running multiple people abreast, blocking the road for faster runners behind them or not being aware of other athletes. Just “respect others,” says Mak.
If you do want to run with a friend who’s slower than you, you almost always have the option of moving back a corral.
Race corrals help manage the flow on the road, but it can certainly seem complicated. At big races, you often have to arrive to your corral early. This can involve going through a checkpoint, so allow plenty of time. “Be prepared to maybe stand or sit in that corral for awhile,” Paul says.
Before heading to your corral, do a warm-up, use a port-a-potty and bring a water bottle and warm throwaway clothes. Be sure you know what corral your bib number assigns you to. Finally, let your spectators know when they can expect you to finish, based on your corral assignment, and where they can meet you. And then start running.