To finish a long-distance event is required that individuals allocate their energy throughout the event. Thus, the speed control during an event is referred to as pacing and is of scientific interest alongside the factors that influence it.
Usually the studies focused on elite runners, although several recent ones have explored large samples of non-elite marathon runners, with marked differences in ability, motivation, experience and pacing strategy.
Thus, it was found that runners who slowed more in the marathon generally was because their self-forecast result differed greatly from their actual performance. Overconfident runners started the marathon too fast, with greater slowing compared to more “reasonable” runners, who started at less aggressive paces.
In a recent study were analysed over 1300 runners’ reports, specifically about finishing time, pacing, training, running experience and psychology. Therefore, five variables associated with pacing were quantified: competitiveness, goal achievement, risk taking in pace (RTP), domain-specific risk taking and willingness to suffer.
Pacing was determined as the percentage difference between the completion times of the second half of the marathon vs. the first half of the marathon. Positive pacing indicated that a runner ran slower in the second half of the marathon (slowing).
[pacing = (second half time − first half time) / first half time ∗ 100]
Factors affecting pacing
Some studies had already correlated greater levels of competitiveness and goal achievement with faster finishing times. Nevertheless, the association of these factors with pacing was not so important. Thus, runners may be focused in attaining a good performance in every marathon they ran, and therefore try to start with a conservative pace, or alternatively start aggressively risking a dramatic slowing. Both runners could be highly competitive and goal oriented.
There was found a strong evidence correlating RTP and pacing. The RTP running strategy is usually decided beforehand. Before a race, runners decide if starting with a conservative pace to get a satisfactory performance, or start aggressively, hopeful of managing to keep the pace and achieve a successful performance in terms of finishing time. Thus, RTP correlates with faster paces, but also a greater risk of slowing later in the race. Risk-taking runners are aware that the pace they have decided to pursue may jeopardize their results. An overconfident runner will also start running faster, but unaware of later result.
More even marathon pacing is associated with greater experience, age, training and being a female. More long runs, training at a faster than marathon pace and more completed marathons are factors also facilitating a more even pace. Nevertheless, greater training distances was also surprisingly associated with greater slowing, maybe as a result of overtraining and not getting enough recovery time.
As for domain-specific risk taking, results showed that runners who don´t take risks in marathon pacing, are not usually taking risks in other situations.
Similar was the case with the willingness to suffer, a magnitude introduced in the present study. A runner with low willingness to suffer may start cautiously and decide to slow down substantially to experience little discomfort. Alternatively, a runner with high willingness to suffer may start aggressively, and if successful don´t slow much.
RTP was a strong parameter to predict marathon slowing and pace during a marathon among non-elite runners.
Future studies should consider more variables influencing marathoners pacing decisions, such as the ability to use various paces and post-race assessments of pacing decisions during the race. Altogether they could give additional insights in performance for scientists, coaches and athletes.
What type of runner are you: Risk-taker or more even marathon pacer?
Risk Taking Runners Slow More in the Marathon.
Deaner RO, Addona V, Hanley B.
Front Psychol. 2019 Feb 27; 10:333. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00333