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A guide to 5k pacing

by Editor
Wednesday 1st May 2013
Tags  5k pacing   |   Pacing   |   Matt Roberts   |   The Loomba Foundation 5k   |   The Loomba Foundation

How fast should you run? Matt Roberts explains the basics of pacing your race

One of the most important things any runner can learn is a sense of pace. Controlling pace is the key to effective training and essential to performing to the best of your ability on race day. Pacing is equally as important in training as it is during a race. Running too slow during training doesn’t stimulate the body enough to get the best improvement. Running too fast requires too much recovery time and the training becomes inefficient.

When you run within your limits every run can be a pleasure. If you start even a few seconds per mile too fast, then the discomfort of trying to hang on, as fatigue quickly sets in, is not in the least bit pleasurable. That’s why it’s so important to know what pace is right for you.

At a race you’re likely to get the best results if you try to maintain a steady pace from start to finish and run what is known as “even splits”. These are where your splits for each mile or kilometre are about the same. An alternative strategy, known as a “negative split” is also a popular choice. This is where you run faster as the race progresses and complete the second half of a race faster than the first.

Adopting one of these pacing options will put you with good company as nearly all long distance running world records have been set while running even or negative splits. These are a far better approach than either not having a pacing plan at all, or not sticking to one. Starting off too quickly and trying to keep up with other competitors faster than you is much harder, slower in the long run, less fun and more painful.

So how do you learn to run even splits? When you take part in a running race, you need to have a goal finishing time in mind. Previous races and training runs are your best reference point. If you don't know what to use as a goal, start recording training and race results so you can develop a concept of pacing.

If your goal is to run a 5k in 25 minutes, you should be running 8:02 mins each mile or 5:00 min per km. The hardest thing for most runners is to hold back during the first mile when they are highly motivated, perceived effort is lower than usual, and everyone is running fast. Hold back, follow your plan and you will find it much easier to hit your goal. Think of it as racing against the clock, not those around you, so don't let other runners distract you. Most of them won't have a plan for how they are going to achieve their time, so it doesn't make sense to follow them. If others aren't running away from you in the first quarter of a mile then you have more than likely set off too fast.

If you are going to race at 8:02 per mile, then ensure you do some of your training at that pace so you know what it feels like. A track is the best place to learn pacing. Run three repeat miles at 8:02 pace, with short recoveries of between 1 to 3 minutes between each of the mile repetitions. Make sure you check your splits every 400 meters to ensure you are running each one in 2 minutes and remaining on pace.

To understand and appreciate the importance of proper pacing, it is helpful to know what process is occurring in the body as we run. Whilst running we produce lactic acid within the muscles and depending on our level of conditioning and fitness this varies between individuals giving us all a different lactate threshold. Lactate threshold is a person's anaerobic (without oxygen) threshold or the point where the lactic acid builds up in the muscles due to the body's inability to process it. To make it simple, lactate threshold is the maximum steady state effort or running pace that can be maintained without blood lactate levels continually increasing in the muscles. If this occurs a runner will be forced to slow down. Runners can delay the onset of their lactate threshold through proper training and, as a result, improve their endurance and speed.

An athlete can run at his or her lactate threshold pace for about an hour or a little more. Most runners can therefore complete a 5k or 10k run at a pace faster than their lactate threshold (if they are finishing in less than an hour). This means that lactic acid will be accumulating throughout the run, and a slight increase in blood lactate will occur throughout the race.

Running faster than your planned goal pace will cause an unsustainable increase in lactic acid, and the only way to clear the additional lactic acid is to slow down. This will obviously have a detrimental effect on your race pace and overall finishing time.

The Loomba Foundation

Matt Roberts

Matt Roberts is a training partner for The Loomba Foundation 5k which takes place in Hyde Park on June 23, 2013

To enter this flat fast 5k, suitable for experienced and novice runners, runners and walkers simply log-on to www.theloombafoundation.org. It’s just £20 to enter.


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