What's your pacing strategy? Do you even have one? When asked, nearly every top athlete will tell you that they know what pace they need to maintain to stay in medal contention, as well as stay in the game. Finding a perfect pace isn't something you can simply be told. More likely, it is something learned through trial and error. If you've ever entered a race and gone out too hard, chances are you suffered, both physically and in the medals. Going out too slowly will leave you chasing from behind. Correct pacing is essential in any event that lasts more than thirty seconds. Here are some things to consider while finding your own pacing strategy.
While there isn't a great deal of research on this topic, what is there tends to side with the 'even pace' strategy. Athletes who go out fast, die in the second half of the race. Those who start slowly rarely do make up the lost time. In study after study, the fastest start produces the worst performance while even pacing produces the fastest time.
Other studies have looked at race pace in relation to an athlete's working heart rate. Again, the results showed that maintaining an even heart rate throughout the event resulted in faster overall times than those whose heart rates varied.
While this even pace strategy seems to work in events where it is one athlete against the clock, racing against others may require more tactical race strategies and usually require varying race pace and heart rate levels. This type of strategy is often found in long distance events, such as marathons, triathlons and bike racing. A top athlete in these types of events will modify their race pace to suit their own strengths and exploit an opponent's weakness.
There are very few studies that take this 'cat and mouse' type of strategy into account. Most athletic competition involves several equally matched competitors with similar physical abilities. This is where race strategy and pacing get interesting. Races of this nature are much like a moving chess match. One athlete will attack, another counter, and both try to anticipate the other's next move. As this race scenario is much more likely to develop in real life, an athlete can not ignor the powerful role that mental preparation and psychological strength has in successful athletic competition. Much of competition is, afterall, in your head.