This weekend I participated in a small local 5k, and as we ran, I wondered why so many people were not cutting the tangents. They were staying right in the middle of the right lane of the street as if they were in cars, but they were racing, and the race course included the whole street.
You know how some phrases stick with you for years? Little bits and pieces, chunks of conversation from years past. Maybe this doesn't happen to other people, but it happens to me. Anyway, one time, about 20 years ago, I was running a race called the Women on the Run 5 Mile Run. It was my best race, ever. I was running along with another woman, and she said to me, "Cut the tangents." I'll never forget that.
That's the first time I had ever heard such a thing. I've been cutting the tangents ever since.
The idea is to always take the shortest line between two points. Always look down the road and take the most direct line. For example, if you round a corner, always be looking ahead to the next corner. You want to take the shortest route to that next corner. That's cutting the tangent. Over the course of a race, even a 5k, you can save many steps that way. If you don't think that matters, think of those last steps before the finish line. Wouldn't you like to get there faster? Even if it's just a dozen steps, that's huge.
Consider this, on Saturday, I took 3rd in my age group; 2nd place beat me by just 1 second. I gave it my best shot, but I couldn't catch her, even cutting the tangents. Had I not cut the tangents, it wouldn't have been nearly that close.
When race directors measure the course, they measure according to the shortest distance between two points. Shouldn't you do that? Once you get in the habit of doing this, you'll do it automatically.
So no matter the distance of your next race, make sure you cut the tangents because there is no reason for you to run a longer race than anyone else.