Aside from insufficient fitness, poor pacing has got to be the main reason people don’t reach their goals when it comes to racing.
Most experienced runners will be able to tell you that accurate and even pacing of your races is crucial to reaching the finishing line on target. The majority will have learnt the hard way, and have a horror story to offer as evidence of how poor pacing negatively impacted their race strategy, and I am no different:
“I can remember chasing my first sub 40 minute 10k on a fast and flat course at Dorney lake. I was full of confidence, and ran out very hard, setting 38-minute pace for the first 5km of the race. Looking at my watch during this first 5km I was acutely aware that I was likely running a little above my abilities, but pushed on, motivated by the thought of smashing my target time to pieces, and returning home victorious. Following a brief period of doubt, I settled into a miserable final 4km, overheating and burnt out, my pace slipped further and further and I eventually stumbled over the line in well over 41 minutes. Not a bad time by anyone’s standards, but I was certainly capable of more, and felt pretty under the weather for my exertions! Had I stuck to a sensible pacing strategy, I have no doubt I would have broken the 40-minute barrier a lot sooner.”
Aside from this anecdotal evidence, are there any cold hard facts which illustrate the importance of pacing? If I’m looking for a proper scientific opinion on anything running, I always consult Lore of Running, by Tim Noakes. It is 930 pages of pure running geekery, but provides evidence based factual answers to almost any question you may have on running training, racing, and injury prevention.
Noakes, Tim. Lore of Running. 4th Ed. Oxford University Press. 2003.
Noakes states that “any time you gain in the first half of any race is paid for in double in the second half.” Noakes 2003 p581, but that there is no scientific consensus on which pacing strategy produces the optimum result at the top end of human performance; BUT if we are looking for success in our running it is sensible to emulate the strategies of those who are already incredibly successful: to this end we can examine the 1km split times of Haile Gebrselassie in three 10km world record runs in 1995, 1997 and 1998. In each of these runs, his 1km pace does not deviate by any more than +/- 3 seconds per kilometre in the first 9km of the race, and in every instance, he could run the final kilometre at the fastest pace of all. Noakes 2003 p732.
If you are convinced that even pacing is crucial to success, then you need to decide on which pace you are capable of running your chosen distance. This pace needs to be a speed at which you are physically capable of running at, and not just a hopeful figure that you will attempt to stick to. Assuming you have trained up to your goal distance, it may be possible to predict your potential finish time and therefore pace by looking at your best times over shorter race distances you have completed in the past. Various past studies (Davies and Thompson, Daniels and Gilbert, Tom Osler, Gardner and Purdy: data tables shown in Noakes 2003 p68-79) have looked at measuring an athletes VO2 max (maximum volume of oxygen they are able to use) and previous race performances, to create tables which indicate potential for performance in longer distances. If you are at the top end of performance, it may be useful to try and relate your own previous performances to these charts to calculate your pace, but ultimately, for the majority of runners your potential pace must be calculated the hard way on the basis of previous performances and personal experience over the same distance.
It will always be possible to make a poor judgement on which pace you should run a race, but by choosing a realistic pace determined by previous experiences, and sticking to that pace during a race, you maximise your chances of reaching the target time you have set for yourself.
Pacebands.co.uk is my solution for sticking to that even pacing strategy. At the vast majority of events in the UK there is nothing on offer to help runners maintain even pace. If you have trained long and hard for an event then you should be able to purchase something economical and fit-for-purpose to help prepare yourself. Pace bands are bright and easy to read, and durable enough to survive a race in any weather conditions. They should form a key part of mental and physical preparation for a race.