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April 10, 2016

Always remember to pace yourself on race day

One thing that runners - and even most walkers - want to know when they enter a race is the time it took to finish the race.

Fast or slow, most everyone wants to know their time. Almost all races have a big clock that the runners can see as they enter the last few yards of the race.

Many races now have chip timing, so that after the race, a runner can look at the time; and usually the posting indicates their average pace during the race. Runners then compare what they saw on the big clock as they crossed the finish line, check the time on the watch on their wrist and read the results posted on a wall someplace, to see how close the times are to one another.

While it is fun to see the end result, the important part of that time is the average pace per mile. The average pace was probably only held for part of the race, as at various points during the race the pace was faster in some points and slower in others.

But it does give the runner a time that they can use to compare with other races to see if they are improving, or if they at least ran faster than the last race they entered. It really helps for a runner to know what pace they run during a race.

In order to learn the pace, a runner usually heads to a track and runs a series of quarter miles and times each quarter. Two things are important while doing this. Know what your average pace was in that last 5K race that you ran, and break that time down to quarter-mile times.

As an example, the runner ran a 24:50 time in a 5K race; and that breaks down to an 8:00-per-mile pace. A quarter-mile time would be two minutes.

The second part of the interval work is to try to get a “feel” for how the legs are turning over, how hard the breathing is, and how much effort it took after you did about eight quarters at this pace.

The point of knowing how you feel while running that pace is important, because in a race, it is very easy to go out too fast. Even a 5K race is over three miles long; and it allows the runner to make up time if the first mile was a bit slow. Knowing how you feel at that pace helps keep the runner close to the pace at which they want to finish the race.

This leads to another point in entering a race. Where do you start in the crowd of runners before the gun sounds?

Chances are, unless you are a fast runner, you will be closer to the front of the pack then you should be. The fast runners know they are fast, and they will be near the front.

It is easy to get caught up running with the pack while you are still fresh and have lots of energy, and not know how fast you are running. I ran a half marathon one year and wanted to average a comfortable 7:30-per-mile pace. I joined in a group of friends that I knew; and when we hit the first mile, the person timing at that point was calling out, “6:15, 6:16, 6:17.”

That was much faster then the 7:30 pace I wanted. It took me four miles before I finally settled into the 7:30 pace. What happened at mile nine was that, for every minute I gained running fast in the first four miles at the start, I was losing two, or maybe even three, minutes per mile at the end.

Here is another example of what can happen when you do not know your pace. I had a friend who ran a marathon with me. I was trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon and needed to run under 3:10.

My partner was aiming for a 3:30 time. At mile 15, I found out that he was in front of me as I caught up to him.

I asked him, “What are you doing out here? You are going too fast.”

I finished at around 3:04, and waited for him to meet at the place we had selected to meet after the race. His time of 3:30 came and went. Then 3:45 came and went.

After the 4:00 time, I began to wonder where he was. A friend said he was in the hospital after collapsing around the 26-mile distance.

You need to practice running those intervals, and getting to know how it feels to run a certain pace. That way, you won’t get caught up going out too fast in a race and crash at the end.

If you are not a fast runner looking to be in the top 10 finishers, it pays to start nearer the end of the pack. You may be slower at the start; but it feels good to pass all of those runners who started out too fast, and are now going slower than you.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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