Running evenly and setting your goal race pace

Sometimes the simple things in running are easily overlooked, especially in the excitement of racing. I recently had a run over 1500m at a Victorian Miler’s Club meeting, a series of graded and paced races over the summer track season. Following my steady efforts in the F race, and after recovering from slow miler’s cough, I had the opportunity to camp out near the start and listen to various athletes in the faster divisions requesting lap speeds from the provided pace makers.

I was a bit surprised that some of the asking was pretty optimistic and there were plenty of examples of blow ups during the night. Some ludicrously fast early laps were inevitably followed by bum dragging finishes. So my take out from the night was that the simple strategy of even paced running probably wasn’t as widely understood as I thought it was. Alternatively, in the excitement of the moment, the best laid plans went out the window – it happens, but with practice this shouldn’t occur too often.

Depending on your fitness levels and goals for any particular race it’s probably better as an inexperienced runner to be a pacing pessimist rather than an optimist.

A few months ago I read an interesting blog post from Alex Hutchinson over at Sweat Science that made a good argument that all exercises performances are to an extent sub maximal, so getting to the line full of running might not necessarily be a sign that you haven’t run hard enough – you may well have paced things close to perfection.

Statistics 101

Even paced running is also a really enjoyable way to run, there’s nothing worse than blowing up three or four laps from home because you overcooked it in the early stages. Having the strength to push hard for the finish line is exhilarating, and fun to pass a few runners who didn’t attend to their pacing strategy as well as you did. Just look at how I crushed these kids in the last 100m :-). I’m sure they’ll get me next year or next month!

An even set of lap splits and then a big run to the finish is the same strategy used by world record breaking long distance runners, to break your own personal records, the strategy works equally well. Getting sucked into a hot pace above your fitness levels beyond about the first 200m in a race is usually a fatal mistake. Whether you run on the road or track the same strategies apply – even running off a well selected pace delivers better, more enjoyable results.

So dust off your maths text books and start calculating and considering the standard deviation from the mean as being an important measure of how well you executed your even pacing strategy. For track runners use your lap splits, for road racers and fun runners take note of your pace at mile or kilometer markers.

How fast should I run?

If you’ve been focusing on a particular distance then training sessions designed to conditioning your body to run at goal pace are the best indication. If you’re like most runners, who use multi pace training, then you will have trained at 15-10km, 3000m and 1500m race pace. So you’ll have some practical experience at your potential race pace for a variety of distances – use it.

Your training or practice is the best guide, but shouldn’t always be a limiting factor, sometimes putting your optimist hat on is not a bad idea, especially if you’ve got the feeling you’re the type who runs better in races than in practice.

If you’re racing middle distance then your repetition pace for 400m is a good guide. For 3000m and 5000m the pace you can sustain for 5 to 6 1000m repetitions is a reasonable place to start.

If you train brilliantly but always blow in races then being a pacing pessimist might provide surprisingly good results. But whatever pace you choose, try to run it evenly.

Even paced middle distance races

Running even isn’t just a tool for longer races, it works well over 1500m where lapping even for the first 800 is advisable. Increasing your effort levels to maintain this pace in the difficult third lap is a challenge and then go hard for home with everything you have left in the tank with 300m to go. Have a goal of increasing your pace over each 100m segment to the line.

Veteran Tony Dell (pictured above and featured in video below) shows how it’s done by running an even paced 1500m with a big last 300m. Crushing me and all comers in a keenly fought F race.

What if I get out too fast?

Don’t panic! Just ease back gradually to get back on your goal pace – try just relaxing slightly to let the pace settle naturally. A fast 200m to get out well isn’t the end of the world, so generally have a sneaky look at your watch after the first 200m and see how close you are to goal pace time and make adjustments as required.

Training partner Lisa (in the bright pink shoes) also executed a well paced 1500m race to move from last (15th) at 200m through to 6th by the finish. Lisa’s race

If you’re a habitual rabbit then perhaps even checking after 100m could be a better strategy or alternatively deliberately go to the back of the field, forget about what the other runners are doing and run your own race. You’ll be surprised how many times you’ll pick up places in the closing stages of the race.

Pacing and front running

For athletes looking to really work hard for improvements, paced miler’s club meetings are a great opportunity to push the limits. Running hard from the front for as long as possible with an optimistic, but even goal pace, is a good way to test the boundaries of your current performance levels.

You’ll need to be confident in your fitness and training, but be prepared to roll the dice and run slightly faster than what you’re training might indicate you’re capable of. In these meetings getting the win isn’t the primary motivation, running a best time or integrating a race into your overall training makes it a good time to risk a failure. Work out when to do this with your coach.

I’ve been reading one of Peter Coe’s books recently and there’s a great anecdote about how Sebastian Coe often front ran these miler’s club meetings in the UK during his younger days. Apparently he went through a phase of getting caught in the final lap, and there was some criticism that he wasn’t learning to run with good tactics. He stuck with the strategy and meeting after meeting he’d get caught later and later in the race, until finally he could push through to the finish line without being caught.

This is a very honest and hard way to test your fitness and training progression – learning to run tactically for a win is important, but running hard from the front is something that shouldn’t be ignored.

Even paced running around your limits works to stop you running too fast against better competition, but is equally valid if you’re the best runner in the race to stop you running too slow. So if you’re a faster runner, getting the win off a slow pace with a big kick might be gratifying, but did you progress or learn anything about where your true limits were?

Conclusion

Runners who want to compete in local, national and international championships will need a bunch of other strategies and tools in their kit bags to be successful. For those just wanting to run close to their best, or to what their current fitness will allow, then running even is the best race strategy.

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Images from Victorian Miler’s Club meet 17 January 2012

By Tim Crosbie courtesy of Athletics Victoria

4 Responses to Running evenly and setting your goal race pace

  1. Tony Dell January 26, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

    A team mate of mine mentioned this article to me. Not sure that we’ve met (apart from end of the race), but thanks for the rap.

    • Brian January 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

      No worries Tony, enjoyed your work! You’re one of the few runners on the night who I heard nominate a pace and then managed to stick to it.

  2. LobsangRama January 26, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    I loved the video and the commentary. This was high drama and I was caught up even though I knew no one!

    • Brian January 26, 2012 at 8:16 am #

      Thanks for the feedback. Running and racing is always exciting I think, it’s such a sport of relativity – a race is always a great contest between individuals, even if it’s not the Olympics!