Article - Pacing Strategy

Pacing Strategy in Marathons and Ultras

Without sounding like a 'safety warning', I feel it is important that one realises that all runners are different. What works for one runner doesn't mean it will work for other runners. So my UltraStu blog shares my thoughts on various things to do with ultra running, it is not to suggest that others do the same, but more for the readers to simply question what they do. Is an alternative approach worth a try?

So here are some of my 'words of wisdom' when it comes to ultra running (please take note of the safety warning above) "Run as fast as you can, while you can!"

What is the problem with running quick, say around 6:00 - 7:00 mins per mile at the start of an ultra race? Physiologically the main problem is that you may utilise too much of your precious glycogen stores which will lead to problems later in the race. However, if your body is able to take on board carbohydrate during the race, then you can spare your glycogen, so hopefully it will last to the end. It takes a bit of trial and error (when an error occurs it isn't a great feeling) to establish just how quickly you can go so as not to deplete your glycogen stores. Also requires trial and error on what food your body is able to process to keep your blood glucose topped up.

In terms of race intensity, 6:00 - 7:00 mins per mile is below my maximal lactate steady state (MLSS) also known as lactate turnpoint, so I will not have any accumulation of lactate. So from my experiences I believe the key to ultra running is fuelling. At the start of the race I have plenty of fuel, so why not run fast. I love running fast over the trails, so as I stated above, keeping in mind glycogen utilisation, I run as fast as I can while I can. The "while you can" relates to my experience that no matter what pace you run at, whether 6 - 7 minute miles or 10 minute miles, after 5 hours of running you feel tired. I would rather have completed closer to 45 miles after 5 hours than only 30 miles! So my challenge to the readers of this post is for them to give some thought to how they determine the pace they start their ultra races at. What is the decision based on? How do you know that you are not capable of running faster over the first few hours? Will you feel more tired/exhausted after 5 hours if you run faster at the start? This leads into a really interesting topic, what causes fatigue, but that is covered in a different article.

Following the above ideas being posted on UltraStu I received a few comments. One of my friends suggested that I rename by blog from UltraStu to UltraStupid! I also particularly liked another response "I'm ..... predicting mass self destruction if everyone else starts off running 'as fast as they can while they can'! But what I found most interesting was a comment with a website link, referring me to a really interesting article:

For those of you that haven’t followed this link it is about Ultra Runner Cavin Woodward, from Leamington Cycling and Athletic Club, setting the World record for 100miles on the track in 1975. What was so amazing about Cavin Woodward was his approach to pacing ultra events, very similar to my thoughts expressed above:
"Run as fast as you can, while you can!" and "... no matter what pace you run at, ... , after 5 hours of running you feel tired." Stuart Mills, 2010.

Well compare this to Cavin Woodward, 1975 - World Record Holder 100 miles - 1975-1977.
The article quotes his strategy as "... to go off as fast as he could for as long as he could." With Cavin quoted as saying "No matter what pace you start at, you will slow eventually, so start at a fast pace ..." Cavin Woodward, 1975.

It is great to see that the approach I have proposed led to a World Record in 1975. What was so interesting about the article is that it also listed the 10 mile split times for not only Woodward's world record in 1975, but also Don Ritchie's world record in 1977, which stood for 25 years until Oleg Kharitinov broke the record in 2002. (
(And Kouros running 100 miles on the road in 1984)

The absolutely amazing thing is that Kharitinov and Woodward used completely opposite extremes in terms of pace judgement. Clearly illustrated by the difference in running the first and second 50 km split times, being 1 hour 41 mins slower for Woodward, compared to only 13 minutes slower for Kharitinov!

The main conclusion I draw from this articles is that there is NO "one correct way" to run ultras. As much as science tries to provide the one answer, one answer does NOT exist, and whoever tries to tell you that "this is how things should be done" needs to be referred to the history of the 100 mile world record, especially to Cavin Woodward.

I am truly inspired by what I have read, especially inspired by Cavin Woodward, on how he did things his way, not following the norm, as demonstrated  by him running the first mile of his world record in 5 minutes and 19 seconds!

To all of you reading this article, whatever your approach is at the start of your next Ultra, my signing off quote is from Steve Black - coach, motivator, counsellor and friend to rugby great Jonny Wilkinson.

"You've got to believe in what it is you are trying to achieve. Without that belief you've little chance of accomplishing anything of worth." Steve Black, 2008. Page 29: Jonny Wilkinson, Tackling Life - Striving for Perfection.

Enjoy, as you achieve.

Part 2 – The Negative Split!

Originally this article was going to stop at this point.  I however got involved in an online discussion regarding the merits of the Negative Split, specific to marathon running.  What follows is the discussion, mainly focussed towards road marathons.  However the underlying principle of "Run as fast as you can, while you can!" still holds, and the second part of this article provides detailed rationale to why I adhere to this pacing strategy within my endurance races.

If you have read my article on my Race Focus Energy (RFE) Fatigue Model then hopefully you have an understanding that I believe that performance in trail marathons and ultra trail races is determined by the rate of usage of RFE during the race, in relation to the size of the RFE tank. In trail marathons and ultra trail races I therefore run hard right from the very start of the race, working at a high level, not directly monitoring my physical intensity (RPE), but monitoring the current usage of RFE. The two are related, but it is the RFE that is most important. My aim is to try to maintain a constant level of RFE usage throughout the race, so this means that my mental effort/focus is identical in the first mile to what it is during the last mile.

This is a totally different concept to the typical advice one reads within running magazines, and even the advice that Martin and Tom give out on Marathon Talk, i.e. to run at an easy pace to half way, so at half way you feel comfortable so able to ‘handle’ the second half of the race when things get ‘tough’. It is interesting, that in all of the MarathonTalk podcasts I have listened to, which are quite a few now, this one concept on marathon pacing, is pretty well the only bit of advice Martin and Tom have given that I don’t agree with. I just can’t understand how they can have such good ideas on all other aspects of running, training, nutrition, preparation etc. but yet get this concept, in my opinion, so, so wrong!
The idea of a negative split that they frequently highlight and encourage, appears to me to be unattainable if running to your true capabilities by runners apart from the very, very elite. Yes, there are ‘middle of the pack’ runners that achieve a negative split in a marathon, but rather than celebrating this, I think one should question how have they achieved it. Most likely due to running so slowly in the first half of the race, resulting in their overall time being significantly slower than it would have been if they had attempted to focus for the entire duration of the race. In essence, I see the negative split argument, i.e. take it easy to halfway, As an acknowledging that one’s preparation has not been adequate, in that one doesn’t have the confidence to focus for the whole race, so they are turning the marathon into a half marathon. The unconfident runner runs at training pace for the first half, and then starts to race, starts to focus after half way, due to only having the confidence that one is able to race/focus for half the distance!

In order to achieve a negative time split, actually requires quite a massive disproportional balance in terms of race focus, i.e. mental effort. To run at a constant running pace throughout a marathon actually means at the start, and for the early few miles the pace just typically feels so easy. However, to maintain that same pace near the end of the race requires massively higher levels of RFE, mental effort whatever you want to call it. This uneven distribution of RFE is in my view a totally flawed concept! It is RFE that needs to be constant during a marathon, not running minute mile pace, or even heart rate! The only exception is if you are one of the best of the elite. Remember though they the very top elite are a totally different ‘breed’ of runner. It seems strange that in terms of what elite runners are able to achieve, in no other way do ‘middle of the pack’ runners try to replicate what they do. They don’t try to run at 4:45 minute mile pace. They don’t try to train 150 - 200 miles per week. They don’t try to do 20 mile tempo runs. They don’t live and train at altitude. So why is it that many people have the idea that a middle of the pack runner can run at a constant pace throughout a marathon, or even produce a negative split, just because the best elite runners can achieve it!
Sorry about the previous paragraphs. I just had to get that ‘off my chest’, as it really bugs me that so many runners believe the equal running pace concept for marathon running, and therefore I feel perform at a level so much lower than what they could be capable of, if they had used a different pacing strategy!
Following my blog post with the above bit of a ‘rant’ about how I felt that the negative split resulted in slower finishing times, not quicker as suggested by many, including Martin and Tom from MarathonTalk, there were many comments left on UltraStu, including comments by both both Martin and Tom.  I especially liked Tom’s quote "I'd rather know I was wrong than think I was right". So it got me questioning what is it that makes me think that I am right, that makes me believe that the negative split is the wrong strategy? So below is some material which helps me confirm my beliefs.

The starting point is first to confirm what causes fatigue during endurance running performance. This is covered in depth in other articles available on UltraStu, however what follows is a brief summary.  Fatigue in the past used to be considered to be due to peripheral fatigue, for marathons, typically due to glycogen/carbohydrate depletion. With the availability of carbohydrate gels, fatigue in marathons now seldom occurs due to low blood glucose levels, as evidenced by the frequent sight from the 1980s of jelly legged runners stumbling towards the finish line of the London Marathon, now a very rare occurrence. The latest research, initiated by Professor Tim Noakes, highlights the importance of the brain (The Central Governor) and more specifically the integral role of RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion). While doing physical activity, the runner rates their perception of exertion, i.e. their feeling of how heavy and strenuous the exercise feels, combining all sensations and feelings of physical stress, effort, and fatigue. This rating, typically known as the Borg Scale 6-20, (as there is also an alternative 1 – 10 scale) ranges from 6 (no exertion at all) up to 20 (maximal exertion), has been shown within the scientific research to be a stronger predictor of fatigue than any physiological measurements. The latest fatigue models within the scientific literature therefore propose that fatigue within endurance events occur once a maximal RPE is reached. Therefore during the marathon one should have a strategy that prevents one’s RPE from reaching maximum levels prior to the finish line.

Although I accept that RPE is the core component that contributes to fatigue during endurance events, the concept that maximal RPE must occur in order for fatigue to take place, in my experiences doesn’t seem to ‘fit’. During the latter stages of ultra races and marathons, I am not really working at a very high intensity, so I am therefore not experiencing maximal levels of physical stress, although there are high levels of effort, although this is what would typically be classified as mental effort. If one takes on board a ‘fuller/wider’ interpretation of RPE, more than the physical stress/fatigue, then I suppose the maximal RPE concept contributing to fatigue can apply. However, I prefer the introduction of a new theoretical measure known as RFE (Race Focus Energy). Where RFE is a measure of the mental effort, the concentration, the race focus required in order to keep running at a fast pace, i.e. a race pace. RFE is largely determined by RPE, however, the relationship between the two is not directly linked, with many aspects, specifically positivity and negativity, being able to alter the link between the two, i.e. swing the arrow up or down. The RFE Fatigue model also ‘fits in nicely’ with most marathon runner’s experiences, i.e. that towards the end of the race, they run out of energy. Remember, this is no longer carbohydrate / biochemical energy, but more likely Race Focus Energy, or simply mental energy.

Therefore to improve performance during an endurance event such as a marathon, one either has to ensure RPE doesn’t reach maximal levels, or alternatively adopting the RFE Fatigue Model, ensure one does not empty their RFE tank prior to the finish line. At first I will disregard the impact of positivity/negativity and simply look at RFE as being directly determined by RPE. Then if I aren’t too fatigued I will attempt to introduce where positivity and negativity fits in.

The key idea behind an equal paced marathon running strategy is for the “power output”, as Tom from MarathonTalk describes it, to remain even throughout the entire race. With even power output on a flat course translating to even running pace, i.e. constant minute per mile rate, and subsequently equal half marathon split times. The only problem with this idea is that an even pace throughout a marathon does not mean you are running at an even physiological intensity. Due to a number of physiological aspects that occur as the duration of the race increases, such as dehydration, muscles gradually fatiguing, and possible changes in fuel utilisation towards an increase in fat burning (which requires more oxygen for the same ATP generation), there is an increase in the physiological load for the same power output / running pace, which is known as cardiac drift. Runners will be well aware of this if they race with a heart rate monitor, as they will observe a gradual increase in heart rate throughout the race, with the increase being greater during the latter stages of the race, even if they maintain a constant running pace.

Runners who don’t use a heart rate monitor will also be well aware of this phenomenon when reflecting on how ‘hard’ the race was, as their Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) increases as the duration of the race progresses when running at a constant pace. Typically, if adopting a constant pace strategy, their RPE would be low at the start of the race, maybe around 11(Light) – 13 (Somewhat Hard), and then progressively increases up towards 17(Very Hard) – 19 (Extremely Hard) during the latter stages of the race. An increase in RPE therefore results in an increased usage rate of RFE. The figure below is taken from Parry et al., 2011, an article on perceived exertion among Ironman triathletes. The figure clearly shows how the RPE increases during the marathon (of an Ironman), even though the actual running pace decreases as the marathon progresses. It looks like the pace has dropped from around 10.1 km/hr (5:56 per km) down to around 8.8 km/hr (6:49 per km). Therefore to maintain an even running pace throughout the entire marathon would require an even larger rise in RPE than illustrated within the figure below.

I guess the ‘million dollar’ question is, “Is this progressive increase in intensity, from light at the start, up to hard at the end, really the best pacing strategy?” If we look at the strategy to reduce the likelihood of emptying one’s RFE tank, then one would conclude that starting at an easy pace, where the RFE usage is low at the start, would lessen the chance of running out of RFE before the end of the race. However, due to running at a lower intensity, this means you are actually running slower than what you could have run at. The theory behind the even power output is that because you have taken the first half easy, i.e. with minimal Race Focus Energy, then you are more likely to be able to maintain the same running pace during the second half of the race, as your RFE tank will be substantially fuller than if you had started with a higher intensity, at a higher usage of RFE.

The even power output strategy therefore looks good. However, what happens during the second half of the race? Remember an even power output strategy (even running pace on a flat course) means you have run at a slower pace than you could have achieved, so you have time to make up in order to cross the finish line in a quicker time. What it gets down to is how much extra RFE will you consume during the second half of the race in order to maintain the same running pace, over and above the amount you would have consumed, if you had started running initially at a higher intensity, therefore at a quicker running pace, and therefore having the ‘luxury’ of being able to reduce your pace during the second half, and hence use less RFE? As just highlighted, the benefit of starting at a quicker pace is that you are able to keep the RFE usage, (or the RPE value), the same during the second half of the race, as you have ‘time up your sleeve’ so therefore able to allow the pace to drop gradually to equally match the gradual increase in physiological load as a result of cardiac drift.

The confusion often arises because it is assumed that starting at a quicker pace, i.e. quicker than what you are capable of maintaining for the entire duration of the race, means that you are working at a higher physiological intensity, higher than what you could maintain for the entire duration of the race. This assumption is incorrect. By starting at a quicker pace, you are actually keeping the physiological loading, the intensity, the RPE, and most importantly the RFE at a more even value! It is attempting to run at an even pace, with an even power output, that results in large variations in physiological loading, RPE and RFE. It is typically assumed for most variables that an even constant value is more efficient than fluctuations or a wide range of values. So YES adopting an even strategy is the answer, but not an even running pace, or an even power output strategy, but a strategy that results in an even physiological intensity, and an even usage of Race Focus Energy!,

Looking at the example of a runner adopting an even power output strategy, means the runner has taken it easy at the start, running slower than one could quite easily have run at, as there is no fatigue, heart rate is therefore the lowest it will be throughout the entire race before cardiac drift, and their RPE will also be at the lowest, as this continuously rises during the race, as clearly illustrate in the figure above. However, will they actually be able to translate having a fuller tank of RFE leading into the second half of the race into actually maintaining the same even running pace? Before answering this question, there is one aspect that I haven’t mentioned yet: muscle fatigue / muscle damage. The muscular force required from your lower limbs to run is typically in the region of around 20% of one’s maximal force value that they can generate. Now during endurance running, as muscles gradually fatigue, the decline in the muscle force that is able to be generated actually plateaus, at a level of around 30 - 40% decrease. So even at the end of ultra races, the muscles are still able to generate 60 - 70% of their maximal force, which you can see is significantly more than the 20% that is needed to run. So the muscle fatiguing isn’t actually the limiting factor. They simply cause the running to be less efficient, hence the drift upwards in heart rate, RPE and therefore increased RFE usage, at the same running pace.

The problem during marathon / ultra running is actually the muscle damage, the increased pain the runner feels as the race progresses, on each and every foot strike. This pain is usually worse on the down hills where the muscles are contracting eccentrically (i.e. the muscle lengthens as it contracts) and also during road racing, where there isn’t the same ‘give’ in the road as there is on the trails. So during the latter periods of endurance races, such as a marathon, although the runner that started at an easy pace has more RFE in the tank, the usage rate is now magnified immensely simply due to the pain from the muscle damage. If you reflect back to your last marathon or ultra race, how much mental focus did it take to keep moving at a reasonable pace when your legs were ‘screaming’ for you to stop? There was most likely increased RFE usage simply due to the muscle damage pain! Yes, if your experiences were similar to my typical experience in an ultra race, then it probably took significantly higher levels of RFE to maintain the same pace. Not due to a lack of physiological fitness such as VO2 max, or lactate threshold, but simply due to the muscle damage that is unavoidable in endurance racing. One could suggest that the muscle damage would be more if the runner runs the first half of the race at a faster pace, however, the muscle damage is much more time/duration dependent rather than pace dependent, especially when running on the trails, where the running pace effect on muscle damage is even much smaller. It isn’t just muscle damage that can cause the RFE usage to significantly increase during the latter stages of the race. Other factors such as blisters, cramps, dehydration, overheating, stomach/digestion issues etc, can all increase significantly the amount of Race Focus Energy that is required in order to maintain the same running pace.

Hopefully it is becoming clearer in terms of ‘where I am coming from’! Slowing down during the second half of a marathon isn’t solely determined by the pace the runner runs the first half in. Yes, it does play a part, as a quicker pace will have used up more RFE, but during the second half of the race, there are so many other factors that can significantly increase the RFE usage rate, which far exceeds any ‘savings’ achieved by running at an easy pace during the first half. Those runners that are able to maintain an even paced marathon, or even a negative split, in some ways are achieving it, perhaps one could say by as much a little bit of luck, as opposed to their physical preparation (which plays an important role – but another post), or more specific to this post, as opposed to their conservative running pace in the first half. The easy running pace during the first half I believe plays only a little part in everything seeming to ‘fall into place’, i.e. that they didn’t cramp, didn’t get dehydrated, didn’t get blisters, didn’t get overly painful muscle damage etc., and with the easy running pace during the first half I would suggest most likely does not have such a large affect, that it was worth ‘wasting’ the opportunity to run faster while they could, before these multitude of potential problems possibly arise during the second half. Hence my philosophy; “Run as fast as you can, WHILE you can!” Before the muscle damage, dehydration, etc. massively increases the rate of RFE usage!

Although I haven’t even touched on the role of positivity and negativity above, (another post), now is a good time to look at some actual race data. Is this ability to run an even running pace in a marathon, or even better, to run a negative split, actually an indication of a good performance, of being a better runner? Is it a quality of better runners, such as one may associate a high VO2 max or lactate threshold as a quality of better runners? And secondly, how many runners actually achieve this so called ‘great running performance’ to achieve a negative split. If you achieved it, would you therefore be within the ‘quality’ runners that make up say 10% of all runners, or is this quality performance not that distinctive, and in fact you are just one of say 20% of all runners. Still an aspiration to aspire to, to be within the ‘best’ 20% of the field, as remember, the negative split is portrayed as THE achievement!

To help answer these questions I looked at the results from the 2011 Virgin London Marathon. Perhaps as one would expect, based on the status the negative split has, both the male and female winners ran negative splits. So therefore why have I wasted all of this time typing up this article, attempting to get you to consider that the negative split isn’t what it is made out to be? But let’s look a little deeper at the results. How many of the other 99 runners in the top 100 in the massed start race also achieved a negative split? Remember these runners are the very best, at the very front of a field of over 35,000 finishers. Surely then one would expect around half of the top 100, or at least a third! No, only seven other runners in the top 100 finishers ran a negative split. This ‘strange’ result could however be because at the front of the race many of the runners went out with the pace makers at nearly world record pace, in the hope of hanging in there to the finish, they therefore were never going to achieve a negative split. So if I look at how many within the next 100 places from 101 – 200 achieved a negative split, this would give perhaps a more true representation of the frequency of the negative split occurring. These runners from 101 – 200 are still top quality runners, and in relation to the overall field, very, very fast runners, with an average finish time of 2 hours 39 minutes. The results show that there were only 6 negative split runners from the 100.

If you look at the following graph, that shows the number of runners that negative split from samples of 100 runners at different time gaps for the first 10,000 finishers, then you will see that there is ABSOLUTELY no relationship at all between the finish time of the runners and the percentage that achieve a negative split. If running a negative split was a quality of being a good runner, of a good performance, then surely one would expect that further towards the front of the field there would be a higher percentage? With a correlation of pretty well zero, one shouldn’t need any more evidence that the negative split is NOT something to aim for, NOT something that indicates that you performed well!

Another key statistic is the percentage of runners within the first 10,000 finishers that actually achieve it, being only 5.8%. With this evidence it therefore still amazes me that there seems to be the message ‘out there’ that the negative split is something all runners should aim for. If we look at a 10% sample, in batches of 100 runners, spread throughout the 23,600 runners that finished within 5 hours at London, then the percentage that achieve a negative split drops even lower to only 4.3% of finishers! The following graph also show how the positive split slowing down time increases as the finishing time increases.

A really issue that needs attention is in terms of the potential effect this low percentage of negative splits may have on the marathon finishers, when 95.7% of them do not achieve probably the number one goal that is drummed into them apart from finishing! Remember the message ‘out there’ that the negative split indicates that you ran well, probably even more important than your actual finishing time. So 95.7% of runners are potentially disappointed because they didn’t achieve one of their goals. So if they do another marathon, which hopefully they will still want to, even after the disappointment of not negative splitting, then what do you think their likely race strategy will be for their next marathon? Well I would suspect that they would likely run the first half of the next marathon at an even slower, easier pace, as they possibly would have concluded that the reason that they didn’t achieve the negative split is that they started off too fast, and therefore that is why they ran out of energy. Which they may associate as running out of carbohydrate energy, as it is reasonably well known within the running community that the higher the physiological intensity, the greater the usage of carbohydrate. But remember that is the old model of endurance fatigue, before gels were available. Carbohydrate depletion is no longer the cause of fatigue in marathon runners.

As I have mentioned above, fatigue is more likely a consequence of RPE, or specifically getting close to emptying the tank of Race Focus Energy. As many runners are not aware of the latest fatigue research which is based on the Central Governor, i.e. the brain, it is probable that most runners are likely to conclude that their running pace being too fast at the start was probably the cause of their fatigue! And as I have highlighted above, the rate of RFE usage during the second half of a marathon is determined by much, much more than one’s running pace during the first half of the race. So starting their subsequent marathon at an even slower running pace, doesn’t guarantee that they will achieve this much wanted negative split goal, as demonstrated by only 4.3% of runners finishing in less than 5 hours achieving it.

One thing that is interesting is that both the men’s and women’s marathon world records were set with a negative split. So why is this so?

Looking at my RFE fatigue model above, where physiological demand, (which could be concluded as being represented by rating of perceived exertion, RPE), is a core component. There is not a direct link from RPE to RFE. Although running a negative split could be the wrong strategy in terms of there being a progressive increase in RPE as the race progresses, the positivity one receives by not slowing down, and as you overtake other runners is likely to result in a downward swing of the RPE-RFE arrow, and therefore could result in a constant rate of RFE usage. The key here is the thoroughness of the race preparation. If you have considered the demands of the race, and prepared for a negative split (even paced) race strategy, then hopefully you have the confidence to run slower than what you are capable of during the first half, and to not allow negativity to develop as you are further down the field than you would expect to finish. Then with the expectation that during the second half of the race you will overtake the 95.7% of the field who slow down, the positivity will hopefully counteract the increased physiological demand.

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 in July 2011 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: 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. “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 finally 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.

I will sign off with a quote from Tom Williams from MarathonTalk, which was within the comment he left on my Dorset Trail Marathon Race Report, December 2011 post:
“A large amount of what we achieve is governed by our mental state and how we see ourselves. (It is) a lot about opening the mind to what might be possible when we throw away the self imposed limitations of our mind.” Tom Williams, 2011.

All the best with the formulation of your pacing strategy for your next race. Remember, whatever strategy you adopt, you must have total belief that it is the right strategy that works for you.


  1. "Run as fast as you can while you can" is a bit misleading. Run as fast as you can makes it sound as if you've got to run near your threshold which could be destructive. But I think you're onto something that you've got to make up ground in the early miles because you do slow down later. One thing I noted on the Lakeland 50 at the weekend. I finished 39th and after Kentmere I was catching runners in a similar position in the L100. What struck me very strongly was that the pace differentiation wasn't very marked considering they'd done 50 miles farther than me. There was one bloke in particular who outran me from Langdale right up to the final descent. This also proved the adage that it is descending which suffers most over longer distances.

  2. Hi Lonely, or should I say Mark. Well done on your 39th place at the recent Montane Lakeland 100.

    Yes, you are right is stating that my motto "Run as fast as you can while you can" is a bit misleading. The fastness of the pace at the start of a race is relative to the overall race duration. Therefore the starting pace for a 35 mile ultra is quicker than for a 50 mile ultra, and likewise the pace one starts at for a 100 mile ultra is even slower. However the important message is that one should NOT start slowly in the anticipation, the hope that they will be able to run stronger during the latter portions of the race. This DOES NOT happen. Pretty well regardless of the pace one runs at during the first part of an ultra, one is quite exhausted during the last third of an ultra race.

    All the best with your running,