By Rick Morris
Running a smart, strategic race can make the difference between meeting or failing to meet your race goal. Running a smart race starts with proper pacing. There are a number of possible race pacing strategies. Each of these strategies has advantages and disadvantages. The proper strategy will depend upon your strengths, your weaknesses, race distance, course conditions and race logistics. Here are the possible racing strategies and most appropriate uses.
Using even pacing you would maintain roughly the same pace per mile throughout the race. This strategy is favored by many athletes and results in very good performances. Many studies have shown that the top runners in most races tend to run both the first half and the second half of the race in nearly equal times. This is an especially good strategy for the marathon because of the difficulty in performing negative splits in long races.
This type of pacing is very similar to even pacing but relies more on effort level rather than actual chronological pace. With even effort pacing you try to maintain the same perceived effort level throughout the race. This type of pacing is more appropriate for beginning runners. Even effort pacing will result in slowing throughout the race due to the perceived effort level rising as you fatigue. This type of pacing will allow you to finish comfortably, but will not result in optimal performance. Even effort pacing is also a good strategy for more experienced runners in mountain races or very hilly races. Attempting to maintain even pace on steep hills can result high fatigue levels and difficulty in maintaining a quality pace in the last part of your race.
Negative splits involve running the second half of your race faster than the first. Many coaches favor negative splits, because the easier start will reserve strength and energy for a fast finish. This type of pacing can be very enjoyable because you will pass a lot of runners in the last half of the race. If the course is flat and conditions are good, it can also give very good results. This is not always the best strategy if the second half of the course is harder than the first. It can also become difficult to catch competitors that run stronger in the first half and open up a large lead. This type of pacing is a good choice in flat races between 1 mile and half marathon.
Surging is a race strategy in which your change your pace throughout the race depending upon course conditions and where your competitors are. Surging is a very useful strategy and if used properly can give excellent results in any race. If you are a competitive runner and are competing for top positions you will use this strategy in nearly every race. Surging can also be a valuable psychological tool. If used properly it can demoralize your opponents.
Starting strong and trying to hang on throughout the race is an example of front running. This is not recommended for most runners. The idea of this type of pacing is to open a large lead and then try to hang on for the remainder of the race. This will always lead to a lot of pain in the last half of the race and very seldom results in top performances. There are some runners that have a very efficient stride that can maintain a quality pace when very fatigued. This type of runner may have success with this type of pacing, but for most runners, this is a bad pacing strategy.
Strong Start/Middle Float
Starting strong, then running at a quality, but relaxed pace in the middle and finishing strong. This is a modified type of front running. Using this strategy, a runner will start strong and create some separation from the other runners. This runner will then slow to a strong but relaxed pace and try to recover while maintaining a lead. Then when partially recovered will finish strong. As with front running, only a runner that is able to handle a lot of pain and has a very efficient stride will have success with this strategy.
Middle Push/Strong Finish
Starting at a relaxed pace, pushing hard in the middle miles and try to hang on for a strong finish. This is a very popular strategy that consistently results in top performances. Using this method, the runner will start with a relaxed pace in the early miles. In the middle of the race, the runner will pick up the pace to just over race pace and try to maintain this pace through the middle and ending miles before accelerating to the finish with a sprint kick. If you have the mental and physical strength to maintain that quality pace through to the finish, you will get very good results with this strategy.