What would Usain Bolt’s tactics be in the Elimination Mile?

One of the most well received elements of the new Nitro Athletics concept was the Elimination Mile, where the last competitor is eliminated after each lap.

On the inaugural night of Nitro the men’s and women’s races showed a distinct contrast, highlighting that an evenly talented field is crucial for the concept: the men’s race was a thrilling contest where world junior finalist Matthew Ramsden caused an upset over three-time Olympian, Jeff Riseley; the women’s race was a rather dull affair, with 4:01 1500m runner Linden Hall outclassing the field for an easy victory. [Watch the men’s race here via FloTrack’s Facebook page]

Ramsden’s winning time wasn’t spectacular at 4:09.02, but that was primarily due to the fartlek nature of the race. If you’re new to distance running, fartlek is a Sweedish term meaning ‘speed play’ and is an often used training method where fast and slow running are mixed.

At first Ramsden’s rough splits in the race look strange and don’t tell the full story: 58.2 for the first 409.34m and then laps of 64.3, 70.7 and 55.9. But when broken down in 200m segments the start/stop nature of the race emerges:

  • 31.1 and 27.1 for the 58.2 first 409m
  • 35.5 and 28.8 for the 64.3 second lap
  • 39.0 and 31.7 for the 70.7 third lap
  • 29.1 and a strong 26.8 last 200m, for a 55.9 final lap.

No wonder Riseley commented that “I never want to do it again, it was nasty!”

Riseley said her felt that he’s in good form, but that the way the event turned out favoured 5000m runners.

So what tactics might we see in future?

Fartlek style
Basically how the men’s race turned out, and it probably does favour those with better ability over 5km.

Expect a quick-ish first lap as everyone is fresh (conceivably the weakest runner in the field could set out at a suicidal pace equivalent to their 400m PB – wouldn’t that be fun to watch!)

It’s likely the pace would then settle down in the first 200m of the second lap while everyone catches a breath (having run the first lap quicker than they usually would in a race of this distance) and pick up again 200m later to avoid elimination; and similar again the following lap, until two are left standing. Then it’s whoever still has the most left in the tank over the final lap.

Run until you drop to maximise your place (this is probably what Usain Bolt would do)
Following the same thinking as outlined above re the weakest mile runner going hell for leather from the outset, how could you run if you know you are out of your depth against the rest of the field over the full mile distance? An option is to accept that you are going to be eliminated prior to the last lap, and simply run as fast as you can for as long as you can e.g.

  • If you think you have quicker 400m ability than at least one other person in the field, run your fastest 400m (plus the extra 9.34m to get you to the finishing line!)
  • If you think you have quicker 400m ability than at least one other person in the field, and quicker 800m ability than at least one of the rest of the runners that would be left after the first 409m, run fast enough to get through the 400m and keep on running as fast as you can for 800m.
  • And ditto, extending the concept to 1200m. Of course, it’s going to be more than painful, and you would look quite silly, if you manage to get to 1200m without being eliminated using this tactic, as you still need to run another lap to finish the race and get your team points.

That could all sound a bit complicated and conceptual – so let’s bring it into context with an example… if Usain Bolt lined up in the Elimination Mile he would have no chance of winning the race overall, but undoubtedly could run the first lap quicker than anyone else to avoid being eliminated. He’d then likely get eliminated at the next lap. But for 800m world record holder David Rudisha, he would back himself over the first 800m, and even 1200m using this tactic.

Those are extreme examples to demonstrate the concept, but if there’s a mismatch between the talent in the field, it’s an tactic worth considering for the weaker runners.

Front run your fastest mile
If you’re the best in the field, just run faster than them (like Linden Hall did). This tactic could be interrupted a bit by others taking the ‘run til you drop’ tactic outlined above, but if the field leaves an opening by doing this or the fartlek tactic half-heartedly, this becomes a good option (as it always is in a normal race, unless you think others will be able to sit on you and kick home over the top of you).

Get a break on the field
What to do if you use one of the tactics above and you’ve opened up a big break on the field? Do you slow down to save some energy for the final lap? It’s hard to say and going to depend on a number of things, but you wouldn’t want to get too complacent and have the entire field sprint over the top of you!
The Elimination Mile is an exciting feature of the Nitro program. It’s limited currently by the depth of the fields in this inaugural Nitro series (particularly the women’s), and I would love to see the how the event would unfold with a truly world class field. Regardless, it’s the type of innovation needed at the moment to revive mass interest in the sport.