In speaking with Jared about his race experience, it turns out that he was not utilizing his statistics knowledge to determine his race pace. It was more about how he felt during the race. Jared said, “I went into the race knowing what pace I could run. When they (Tyler Pennell, Galen Rupp, and Meb Keflezighi) took off faster, I realized I couldn’t run that pace and decided to not cover their move completely hoping at least one of them would come back to me.” However, Jared did increase his pace from around 5:05 to 4:50, then back to around 5:00 for a while to not let them get too far away. There are so many physical and psychological factors that go into performance that being too set on a specific pace will often lead to hampered performance. Jared tries to combine what he knows about his ability and what occurs during the race, “I focus on balancing what others are doing in their strategy with the pacing strategy that I’m hoping for on that given day.”
Among amateur racers, we often see more of a focus on reacting to what others do more than what is best for an individual strategy. While watching the 2016 Utah High School State Championships for track and field in May, I noticed how many different strategies there were for pacing.
Lap splits are included in the results for the Utah State Meet. Browsing through those makes it clear that pacing mistakes were made. In some cases, a fast early pace leads to very slow final laps. Other athletes begin the race very slowly and even with finishing fast, end up many places beneath their potential.
Overall, a nearly even pacing strategy through the majority of the race will lead to the best possible times. In the 1994 Los Angeles Marathon, Paul Pilkington was paid to be a rabbit through 25km. He went out at the correct pace, but the other athletes did not stay with him. He felt strong and decided he might as well finish. With a two-minute lead, he continued on at a similar pace. He crossed the line in 2:12:13 winning $27,000 and a Mercedes. After the race he had to rush home to teach his writing class at Washington High School the next morning and trade in his family van that had 100,000 miles on it.
Motivated runners can push themselves to the limits of performance. Starting a race too fast and finishing with great effort, but a slow time is not nearly as fun at racing at the right pace and achieving a personal record.
Jared learned from his master’s thesis that even experienced runners tend to start too fast. He studied split times from the Saint George Marathon and found those that achieved their time goals had the third quarter of the race as the fastest, while the majority that failed in their time goals ran the first quarter as their fastest. So, choose the right average pace from training results with a coach’s help, run that pace early on, and see how your body responds in the final stages.
Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness
Written by: Ian Hunter, PhD