Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Don't Set Off Too Fast

Here's a personal experience from one of our patients at a race recently. Standing at the start line, training all gone to plan. Well rested and taper went well. When the horn sounded for the start, the runners at the front burst off and my patient follows. Legs feel fresh, the first few kilometres past quickly, a check of the watch says a PB (personal best) on the cards.

Upon reaching the halfway mark about 8 minutes ahead of schedule, doubt crept in slowly "Have I started too fast". By the finish line, target time was missed by 5mins (let alone a PB) and my patient was left swearing at the unintentional over ambitious start.

How many of you actually heard about the runner (or any runner) who started their race too slowly and finished wishing they'd started off faster? Probably not huh? It doesn't happen very often. But starting too fast is a mistake that even the most experienced runners make. Getting the pace right for a training run is hard, doing it in a race even more so.

Yours truly made the mistake before as well. In my first serious 800m race, I bolted into the lead at the start and led the race til the last 100 metres when I begin to struggle big time. Two of my competitors came around me and I ended up 3rd. I could have placed better or even won had I paced myself better (I proved that point when I won the same event the following two years in a row against the same runners).

That's why you see rabbits (pace makers) in all the big races - Boston, Berlin, London marathon etc. These runners are paid to run at a certain pace for the big guns racing. Those who run track and watch the Golden League Grand Prix meets can testify to that as well. Most of the world records are set this way, with their (pace makers) help. Like most things in running and racing, there is no short cut, you'll have to practice running a certain distance at 3,4, 5 minutes per kilometer to learn how to pace yourself.

You have to be aware of your stride rate, length, breathing pattern, arm swing etc and then observe how they change as you get tired whilst running. As you get stronger, probably all these will get easier and you can step your training up a notch. Using a GPS or heart rate monitor can help, but as you know, all electronic devices are fallible. If you can learn how to pace yourself you won't make be left at the mercy of a flat battery or failing signal. Plus, except for very long races, it is always better to leave the gadgets at home during the races (my personal opinion).

Before your race you would have know from your training what sort of time you can expect to maintain over the distance raced. Find out about the course, know which part of the course has terrain or slopes/ hills that may slow you down. Allow time to get across the start line in races which has large fields and accept that your pacing and finishing time may be affected.
Don't try to make up for lost time in the first few kilometers, try to claw it back a few seconds at a time . And when you can see the finishing or at least hear the race announcer at the end and a race marshal tells you last few hundred metres then you can muster up a decent sprint for the line.

The scientific rationale for this is simply that slower, steadier pace at the earlier stages (of any endurance race) will spare some of your carbohydrate stores since at slower speeds the body is more inclined to burn fat. This means that there will be some carbohydrate available at the later stages of the race so that fatigue and "hitting the wall" can be avoided.

Sometimes wearing a "pace band" around your wrist to clearly show your optimum split times will be most useful. I've seen runners write it on the back of the hands with permanent markers as well.

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