Let me clarify two terms I’ll use in this post. Tactics refers to how you will approach pacing in a competition in order to gain an advantage over your competiton. This can be done through exploiting your strengths or taking advantage of your opponents weaknesses – physical or mental. Tactics can take into consideration terrain, weather, environment, etc. Pacing on the other hand is the specific time splits (various segments of your run i.e. 400s, miles) you want to hit in an optimum way so as to attain the fastest time possible. It also takes into consideration terrain, weather, environement, etc.
There is a 2% “rule” that has been found in racing almost all distances. It has been found to hold true for most runners from the 800 meters on up. Your split pacing must be within 2% of your goal time. Anything more than that (slow or fast) and your results will be slower than it could have been. This is not a conditioning issue. It is a pacing and control issue. Now, this “rule” has to do with running the fastest possible – optimal pacing – for a given event. It does not address competition, race tactics or even psychological strategies. That is a separate issue. Tactics only make the difference when the outcome is in question.
An intersting article came out in the May 2007 edition of Runner’s World (not here… the other one with a magazine). It was about pacing the 5k. The researchers found that going out much faster – 6% – was found to yield faster times. The study group, though fairly quick by most everyday runner standards, was made up of somewhat slower than average college runners. There 5k times ranged from 18-21 minutes and they trained about 35 miles per week. What is interesting is that I have had similar observations and experiences with young or more novice runners but come away with a totally different interpretation to their results and recommendations.
There are at least three issues that arise from this.
One: I will contend that those same runners had they been trained correctly with ample “goal paced” running incorporated into their training, they would have run as fast or faster than this “go out fast” approach. The point of training is to “know” your pace and be able to hit it regardless of outside influences.
Two: Physiologically, if indeed these runners were going as fast as they could (i.e. “race pace”) not something less, for their race distance (5K); faster running initially would build up an actual physiological fatigue that would result in dramatic slowing. They reported only a slight slowing. If in fact they can handle a faster pace it is a perfect indicator that they are in better shape than posed. In other words, they already could run their entire race faster… they just hadn’t yet. On the other hand – physiologically – it also supports that even pacing will still end up the best for improving times. Even their findings support this; finding that their “even paced runners were only at 78% of their VO2max, an effort more akin to a tempo run than a 5k race”. In other words, they were NOT going out at a pace they were capable of. 5k pace should be approximately 85-90% VO2max with conditioned runners!
Three: Less seasoned runners have not yet learned “effort” well. They do not know how their body should “normally” feel when “pushing”. This is where psychologically it could be good to use this approach as a tactic to explore limits. But, this is different than using it as a race strategy. Why is this important? An inexperienced runner all too often runs way too slow for their capabilties. They are afraid or do not know “how” to push. Therefore, in this study, by forcing them to explore limits it broadens their perspectives and race experience. This is a good technique to use in teaching new runners pacing, racing, while allowing them to experience discomfort of pushing.
I’ll address pacing and tactics as applied to elite athletes and records in my next post.