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How to pace your race

January 20, 2010

Most people who enter races have an idea of the finish time they would like to aim for. This might be a first-time runner hoping to complete a 10k Race for Life in under an hour, or a club-running stalwart trying to skim an extra few seconds off their PB. Alongside all the training and hard work that leads up to a race, you need to work out your pace in order to train effectively – and make sure you’re not expecting the impossible.

Marathon de New-York : {{w|Verrazano-Narrows B...
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Different runners use different techniques for planning their race strategy or pace. Some write a list of split times on their arms (presumably in water-proof ink), others write the times on a band of paper on their wrist, while the more technologically dependent rely on their Garmin. Personally, I’ve always found knowing the split I’m aiming for and taking manual splits on my stopwatch to be effective. It’s set up so you see the time for the current lap, rather than the cumulative time. My mental arithmetic goes a bit awry beyond the half-way point of the race.

If you’re looking to hit a specific 10k time, you might find the following resources useful. These are calculated split times for 10k racing, which can be used as wrist bands (which saves you writing your target splits on your arm). If you find them useful, leave me a comment; I might look into how I could do something similar for half marathons and marathons.

10k target splits: sub-40

10k target splits: sub-50

10k target splits: sub-60

The key, as far as I’ve found it, is trying to manage the inconsistencies in your race pace. Only an exceptional runner will be able to manage a sequence of ten, say, splits at exact target pace. Often you will find that some (if you’re lucky, most) are faster, and some are slower. Personally, I’ve found the first two kilometres and the final kilometre to be the fastest in my 10k running.

A race will typically involve the following phases:

  1. The surge at the start of the race. Adrenaline and pack dynamics result in the start of the race usually being faster than your goal pace. The good news is that this gives you some extra seconds to play with later in the race, but you need to be careful to avoid exhausting yourself.
  2. Settling down, typically towards the end of the second kilometre. This is where you find yourself running with others who are around the same level as you. Focus on the runner in front as this will help pull you along. If you overtake the runner in front, focus on the next person in front of you.
  3. Enduring the pace, usually around the 70–80 per cent marker for the course (the point at which halfway has been and gone, but the finish isn’t yet in sight). Particularly in a 10k, where you are running at the edges of your aerobic threshold, this is likely to be the toughest part of the race. Grit your teeth and stick with it. Focus on the runner in front.
  4. The end is in sight. At some point, perhaps the last distance market, maybe a little before then, the end will be tangible and you start speeding up. The runners around you will also start to speed up, so you might not notice it so much until you look at your splits afterwards.

While most races will have clear and accurate distance markers, helping you to monitor your pace, part of your training in the run-up to a PB attempt should be at race pace. This can be difficult if you don’t have an expensive piece of kit doing the maths for you. Services like MapMyRun will help you measure your training runs, and I would recommend you make the most of them when targeting a particular pace. Try the following:

  1. Find a decent-length stretch of road, pavement, path, etc., that isn’t interrupted by crossings etc. (so you don’t have to stop for traffic). Ideally this should be on a surface similar to the terrain you will be racing on.
  2. Use MapMyRun to measure out 1 kilometre (or mile, if you’re working with imperial) and identify some clear landscape features at the start and end of the stretch so you can effectively measure your run when you get to the stretch. (You might find it useful to switch between satellite and road view to help orientate yourself.)
  3. Include some race-pace repetitions over this stretch with short recovery periods between reps. For example, you might try 3 x 1km at race pace with 30 seconds recovery, a rest period of 5–10 minutes to recover, followed by 2 x 1km at race pace. This should help you get a feel for the speed and improve your recovery time.

You can find some additional pacing advice at the following sites (courtesy of Zemanta):

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. John Williams permalink
    December 31, 2010 10:27 pm

    Really like your splits – do ’em for half and marathon – please!


    • January 1, 2011 4:48 pm

      Glad you like them! I’ll see what I can do about creating a set for the ‘thons. Sounds like a New Year’s resolution to me…

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