Start fast, finish faster? Steady as she goes? Your optimal 10K pacing strategy may depend on how fast you are.
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
What is the optimal way to pace a 10K race? The results of a new study suggest that it may depend on how fast you are. Researchers from the University of Alagoas in Brazil performed fitness testing on 24 male runners and divided them into three groups based on the results of this testing: high performance, middle performance and low performance. They then had the high-performance and low-performance runners complete a 10K time trial in which their pace was tracked throughout.
Interestingly, the high-performance and low-performance runners exhibited different pacing strategies. The faster runners ran the first 400 meters faster than their average pace for the full distance, then slowed down gradually between 400m and 2000m. Their pace held constant from that point to 9600m, at which point they accelerated to the finish.
The slower runners started the time trial more cautiously relative to their ability. In fact, they ran the first 400m at what turned out to be their average pace for the whole 10K. They slowed down very slightly between 400m and 9600m, then picked up their pace in the homestretch. Overall, the slower runners paced themselves more evenly than the faster runners.
Why the different pacing strategies for the two groups? It might have to do with the fact that, while the distance of the time trial was the same for everyone, the duration of the effort was very different for runners of disparate abilities. For example, the fastest runners could complete a 10K in less than 35 minutes, while the slowest runners took closer to an hour. That’s a very different test that may require a different pacing strategy. It is not unlikely that the fastest runners also would have paced themselves more evenly in a longer race that took them closer to an hour to complete.
So what is the take-home message of this study? I’m not sure there is one. Race pacing is done mostly by feel in response to subconscious calculations of individual performance capacity. Runners of all ability levels learn to pace themselves better automatically as they gather race experience. It would probably be a mistake to override that sense of feel and enforce a different, conscious pacing strategy based on the results of some study.
Reference: Lima-Silva AE, Bertuzzi RC, Pires FO, Barros RV, Gagliardi JF, Hammond J, Kiss MA, Bishop DJ. Effect of performance level on pacing strategy during a 10-km running race. Eur J Appl Physiol. [Epub ahead of print]