The Disadvantages of Perfect Pacing

I read a super interesting article on Runner'sWorld.com yesterday and have been thinking about it ever since. Basically the author, Alex Hutchinson, questions the idea of perfect pacing, or running at a sustainable pace so you can finish the workout.

It is the way, I have always been told to train and how I've always trained and raced. But when Reid Coolsaet, a Canadian Olympic marathoner, went to train in Kenya, he found the Kenyans were doing just the opposite. As he watched the Kenyan's do a fartlek workout, at least 1/3 of runners quit the workout after 5-6 intervals of 3 minutes instead of completing the prescribed 15 x 3 minutes. Hutchinson notes that you see Kenyans use the same strategy in racing. They go out as hard and hold the pace as long as they can.




My favorite quote from the article is the following:


But it [steady pacing] is inherently limiting: to run at an even pace, you have to decide on your final finishing time, and thus set a ceiling on your potential achievement, before the starting gun fires. As a result, even pacing may produce better results on average, but it is less likely to produce dramatic outliers: jaw-droppingly fast (or slow) times.

I can see how this is true by looking at my marathon times. My first marathon was my fastest, most likely because I didn't know exactly what I was in for. So I went out fast (well fast for me) and just tried to hold it as long as a I could. I totally crashed around mile 23 and struggled the last 3 miles. But, I had run fast enough the first 23 miles that I still had a decent time. In my subsequent marathons I knew exactly how hard and long it was going to be and made an effort to rein myself in at the beginning. I did feel better through the entire race, and even ran negative splits, but my total time was slower.



In the 26.2 With Donna this year (race report), I decided to go out hard in an effort to set a PR. My pace felt hard from the start, and I felt really horrible in the last miles and slowed quite a bit. BUT, I ran my fastest half in over 5 years.

So for me that is the dilemma. If I want to set a PR, I really do have to go out hard and suffer in the end. Otherwise, I am too far behind my goal pace to make it up in the end of the race. Likewise, if I really want to get faster, I need to run so hard in my workouts that sometimes I just blow-up half way though.

But, when I run this way, I HATE it. I feel like a total slacker and loser if I can't finish a workout. I hate feeling like death at the end of a race and having people pass me. I love feeling strong in the last few miles.

Do you think this article has merit? What is your pacing strategy?

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