Hi, and Happy New Year.
Tonight’s post will be a short post, just tying up a few issues to do with pacing during endurance events. Within my last post I focused solely on a physiological rationale for not adopting a negative split strategy, but as I have tried to explain, performance during endurance events is not determined directly by physiology but is to do with managing Race Focus Energy (RFE), so tonight’s post will hopefully provide the complete answer to the ideal pacing strategy.
One thing that has been highlighted by many, including Brett who left a comment to my last post, is that most world records, especially for track distance races, come of an even split (or a slight negative split) pacing strategy. Simply in terms of physiology I think the reason for this is that for track distance races the races are too short for cardiac drift to occur, hence an even paced strategy does correspond to an even physiological demand. But for marathons, both the men’s and women’s world records were set with a negative split. So why is this so?
Then why is it that I don’t recommend this approach to endurance racing. I guess the main reason is that to develop this confidence to remain positive during the slowly run first half of the race is very difficult. A human trait appears to be to easily react negatively to situations whilst racing. As mentioned in my previous post, there are so many factors that can swing the RPE-RFE arrow upwards. The elite runners who adopt a negative split strategy succeed not only because of their superior physical abilities, but also due to their superior TOTAL preparation abilities. They have the ‘mental skills’, the belief, to remain positive throughout the duration of the race. Based on my experiences during 30+ years of endurance racing, I have found it extremely hard to keep the negativity ‘at bay’, hence why I adopt the positive split pacing strategy, and to quite an extreme.
My 'extreme' positive split strategy is to start at a fast pace, quicker than I am capable of maintaining for the duration of the race, i.e. “Run as fast as you can, while you can”. I am then further up the field and ahead of runners who would expect to finish ahead of me. There are two advantages of this. Firstly, if the preparation by the other runners hasn’t been thorough, then there is the likelihood that they may start to develop negative thoughts due to being behind. But the biggest advantage is the positivity I receive as a result of running fast and being up the field. I am usually on an absolute high, receiving loads of positive energy from marshals, feed station volunteers, spectators and from within. And with this positivity, although I am working at a physiologically high level, the RPE-RFE arrow is rotated down and the RFE usage is therefore lower than what would be typical for such a fast running pace. My performance at the IAU World Trail Championships in Connemara, Ireland back in July is a clear illustration of this positivity reducing the RFE usage rate, and therefore enabling me to perform so much better than what physiologically I should have been able to perform at. Starting the race fast, and actually leading the World Champs for a short period, with a helicopter buzzing above, and a camera crew on a quad bike with a camera jammed close to my face (see the video of the race on the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLUVVBUMALU) had such a massive swing of the RPE-RFE arrow, that I felt amazingly positive for the entire 7+ hours of the race, and everything felt so much easier than usual!
Again in terms of adopting a positive split strategy the key is the thoroughness of the preparation, the completeness of the visualisations. Although, it could be interpreted as being negative visualising slowing down during the second half of the race, in my situation it is a reality due to the quick pace I start at. Therefore knowing that a slowing down of pace has nothing to do with me performing poorly, this prevents the negativity from developing. Brett made a very valid point with his comment “How many times have you read that when people start positive splitting and slowing down they lost all motivation and shut 'er down?” And that is the real problem with trying to achieve a negative split, or an even paced strategy. Many runners may not be aware of cardiac drift, and that to maintain a constant pace throughout a marathon requires a massively disproportionate demand in terms of both physiological intensity and Race Focus Energy. Therefore when they are ‘required’ to slow down, yes the negativity often takes over, and then it is all ‘downhill’ from there!
So to conclude, as with most issues to do with endurance running there is not one ‘golden rule’, there is not one ‘solution to fit all’. The key to success is being aware of the different approaches and having an understanding of the underlying factors that influence performance. This is where the Race Focus Energy Fatigue Model is so beneficial, as it helps to clarify the many, many factors that contribute to race performance. It is with an increased understanding of endurance running that I look forward to another great year of running in 2012. I wish you well for the upcoming year of running, May you achieve success, by achieving the goals you set yourself. Time to sign off with a quote I have signed off before with, but I feel is quite appropriate for this post.
"In order to address what training (preparation) is appropriate, one must first consider what limits performance!" Stuart Mills, 2010.
Hope to see you at a race or two in 2012,