One of the biggest mistakes a green runner might make is lining up to close to the front. The closer you are to the front line the faster and more competitive the runners that are surrounding you are going to be. The more competitive and experienced runners want to take off straight into clear air and get on with their race. If you are sensible (which most of us are) slower runners will start further back and therefore put themselves under less pressure at the start. Also, they will not obstruct faster runners. Starting further back will also ensure that you will be competing with runners who are equal or just a bit faster or slower than you. This means your pace will be consistent throughout the race and you will not burn out - but instead have a great run competing on level terms with runners in your own league.
Getting out of your league however is common place with some inexperienced runners. Check out the sequence of pictures taken with a high speed camera at the start of the 2010 Thame CPM 10k in this link.
Pay special attention to the runner waring a white sleeveless T-shirt, bib Number 709. The picture shows him lining up at the front with the elite athletes. These consist of cross country county champions, road race 10k specialists and hardcore battle scared club runners who can complete the 10k course in under 34 minutes with no shade from the sun and temperatures reaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Runner 709 gets off the start line and takes the lead for the first three metres. He then gets enveloped by the runners either side - even having to be nudged out of the way by one of the championship contenders. At 200 metres nearly fifty runners have passed him and at 500 metres he realises he is out of his league and as if being shot back on a piece of elastic fades back through the field to eventually finish 224th out of the thousand strong field with a time of 48 minutes. There are many reasons for getting it horrendously wrong like this - but before i list this lets park up being a fast runner and suffering injury off the start line. An experienced runner would retire to fight another day. Simple. This guy got it wrong - as do a lot of first timers for reasons that will eventually make you a less naive or a less complacent runner. Some runners that have never taken part in a club race think they are fast because have beaten every runner they have come across whilst out training. Some runners might be the fastest runner on the tread mill in the gym or whilst training with the local Sunday league football or rugby team. Remember : building big muscles in a gym does not give you the edge over a skinny - scruffy old battle hardened running club racer.
Some runners may be just Innocent and consider themselves lucky to have beaten the crowd and got a front row start position...and in some cases runners start from the front to get into that glamorous 'race start photo'.
Starting to close to faster runners can be dangerous for you and other runners and can be very frustrating for serious competitors. The runners on the front row are animals who eat raw meat and have very hard elbows. So, when out training use a GPS watch that will give you an accurate measured distance so you can have some idea of what your time might be in the race. Check out times from the previous years races or races of the same distance. Race finish times on courses of equal distance may vary due to the type of terrain, ie, flat, undulating, tarmac, x-country, multi terrain trails, ect. Hard core hilly challenge race winners might have slower times than the same distance on flat tarmac; so don't get caught out by this. If a fast elite runner does a 10k race in 42 minutes that means it is a hard, hard, course. Get familiar with the names at the front.
To conclude : most races have signs up with start-line position estimated finish times. Use these times against your training time. Or just start in the middle of the pack if you are unsure.
Start to close to the front and you could look very silly when friends and family - and other racers check out your position on the time-sheets.
Pictures by the superb racephotographer : http://www.richk.co.uk/