Pacing for Running

Wooo! What a blast! The Xterra race at Totara Park on Sunday almost counted as 21km of speed work! Under 4 minutes per km on moderately hilly trails thanks to the hard-pack surface and good conditions. And also thanks to good pacing, which cannot be said about everyone’s race. In fact I saw and heard of some crazy things going on out there so I decided maybe it’s time for a quick rant and a few tips on pacing. I’ll go through 3 simple guidelines which I hope will help keep your races under control.

Firstly, pace as evenly as possible. The toll that intensity takes on your body in disproportionately larger as you increase your pace. Unless you are doing a tightly matched track race or know your fellow competitors’ weaknesses well, any intentional variation in intensity should be out of the question. Treat the race like a time trial and pace as evenly as possible. This means your level of suffering will increase slightly as your body runs lower on more easily available fuels and intracellular process get disturbed by changes in muscles biochemistry. A good sign you have paced well is when you notice your physical shape is deteriorating just as the almost finished boost kicks in. For me this was about 1.5km from the finish when I hit the final climb.

Secondly, don’t max out on the hills. Trail races are often characterised by their hills (the elevation profile) and as a competitor it is your goal to choose how to pace them. Once again, the key is that the higher intensity has a disproportionate effect on fatigue. This is made worse on hills because most runners will tend to use fewer muscle groups while climbing, favouring quads and calves and forgetting about hamstrings and glutes with shorter and more vertical strides. So we have more work through fewer muscles, and your quads are going to fatigue faster and will be the first thing to let you down before the finish. A good sign you are doing this right is if your heart rate (or breathing as an approximate indicator) is similar when you are climbing a hill to when you are running on the flat. If it’s not, then slow down slightly on the hills and speed up slightly on the flatter sections. If this means you should walk, good, you may find it easier to engage your glutes and hamstrings this way. After hearing some people’s stories from the race I wondered if they were out there to do hill reps or the actual race. I do not fear the hills any more than the flat because I am running at the same intensity on both.

Thirdly, start with a more relaxed and less aggressive mind set. This is mainly a mental exercise, where you have to show discipline to not go with the mad rush off the start line and trust in your pacing to bring you home strong when others are fading away. Obviously perfect pacing is best (by definition), but we have to accept a margin of error on our pace estimation early in the race. The motivation for conservative pacing is based on, once again, the disproportionate effect of higher intensity on fatigue. The cost of over doing it is much greater than the cost of underdoing it. If you start a bit slower than what would be considered perfect pacing, assuming some running experience, you will know by half way how you are feeling. If you are feeling good then you can increase the pace slightly for the last half and finish in a close to optimal time with any fatigue only catching up with you late in the race. However if you start too fast by the same margin you are going to be out of control by the half way mark, and ultimately lose more time than what you have gained from your fast start. As you get fitter you will find this balance shifts, but there is always a balance, and on average you should start just on the safe side and prepare to adjust upwards throughout the race.

Boosting around Totara Park. Also my first run in the new Icebug Zeal2. Excessively grippy for this even, dry surface but still light-weight, so no worries!

Boosting around Totara Park. Also my first run in the new Icebug Zeal2. Excessively grippy for this even, dry surface but still light-weight, so no worries!

[Running][Boosting around Totara Park. Also my first run in the new Icebug Zeal2. Excessively grippy for this even, dry surface but still light-weight, so no worries!]

With all that said, remember to experiment in racing and training, and remember what your main objectives are. If your goal is to hurt the most, then go for it! Start wayyyy too fast! But if your goal is to finish in the fastest time for your body, then settle down at the start, find yourself a sustainable intensity, and don’t use the hills as mid-race interval training. Race smart.