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In Praise of Even Pacing

Every experienced coach has been asked by an athlete who is about to race

“Coach, how should I go out?” This common question refers to the initial

pacing for the race. The responses are limitless and unfortunately, many set

athletes up for failure and a “slow death” during a long-distance race. If you

want to be successful in any race that is a mile or longer, running AT LEAST the

first half of the distance in an even pace within your current fitness level is

crucial. There are many reasons why setting up a race plan for EVEN PACING

will lead you to the promised land of personal bests, victories, and an overall

feel-good race.

The longer the distance, the more important even pacing becomes in being

able to find success. Let’s use an 18 minute and 45 second goal for a 5k as an

example, since the target pace is a clean 6:00 per mile eTort. If an athlete is

targeting a new PR (personal record) of 18:45 for the 5k and runs the first mile

in 5:30 instead of 6:00, the chances of running a new personal record

diminishes. If the same athlete runs the first mile between 5:55 and 6:05, the

chances of being able to remain on PR pace, react to late race surges, and

finish with a kick will increase, tremendously. Here are a few points to

consider in support of even pace racing:

• Your body begins each race with a pre-set store of energy to be burned.

This is based on your nutritional patterns and fueling eTiciency. Running

faster burns energy quicker than running at a slower pace. In addition,

constant pace changes will burn more energy than an even pace.

Running economy dictates that even distribution of energy as close to

your best fitness eTort will allow you to use all stored energy over the

complete distance of the race. This also works for longer races, such as

the half marathon, marathon, and ultra races, where fuel replacement

during competition follows the same patterns of usage. The most

eTicient use of energy is an even spread of eTort over the entire


• Major spikes in paces (surges) and climbing closer to your personal

VO2Max will burn needed calories faster. This will increase respiratory

expiration and fatigue muscle groups, faster. Remaining close to an

even pace will allow your body to remain within your threshold range,

extending your ability to maintain pace.

• At the end of long races, your ability to “kick” or pick up the pace and

compete is directly linked to the level of lactate build up. Running faster

produces lactate and slows the ability for the body to buTer the pace

killing byproducts in your body. Even pacing allows the body to buTer

the lactic acids more eTiciently, leaving room for a pace pick up or kick

at the end.

• Staying on even pace allows runners to maintain a clear mind, strategize

within your race plan. This allows runners to be more competitive.

• Focusing on your personal best pacing guards against “running

someone’s else’s race”. This common term in our sport refers to an

athlete who forgets their own race plan and abandons the eTiciency of

even pacing.

• If other athletes in your performance range go out much faster, the

likelihood of catching them later in the race while they are suTering from

their poor race plan (and lactate build up) is tremendous.

• If your estimation in your PR ability was too conservative, you will have a

much better chance of running “negative splits” and achieving a PR with

even pacing.

Every time you step up to a race starting line, you should have a clear plan

detailing your pacing. This ensures that you will use energy eTiciently, run as

close to your threshold limitations as possible, and chase a new personal

achievement in covering the distance. As the old adage says, “If you fail to

plan you plan to fail”. Racing is a time to highlight your best work, newly

acquired levels of fitness, and display of grit. The time to take risks about your

pacing capability is in training and in the final 25% of most races, not the first

half. Once you have a clear understanding of your current fitness ceiling,

setting a pace on course for a new record becomes an easy task. Always plan

to stay even, run at your threshold level, and finish with everything you have


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