Race Pace Conditioning For Runners

Attend any local race, watch coverage of running events, or listen in at sporting goods stores … runners will commonly discuss and compare their “pace.” At the heart of any length race, be it 5 kilometers, 10 kilometers, or 50 kilometers, is the pace. The pace can make or break a runner’s performance. To the casual event observer, runners simply run by in a mass of pit-a-pat sounds and crowd cheers. However, each runner has a set pace — and has worked for months to get it set just right.

So isn’t running just running? The starter’s pistol pops, the group of tank-top-clad people surges forward, and they appear later on, somewhat sweatier and panting, at the finish line? That is the basic theme. Start, run, finish. Take a closer look. Some runners are checking oversized watches. Some are right behind others, the determination in their eyes growing keen. All are reaping the rewards of a well-built pace.

Pace is not just about speed. It is not just about endurance. It is not just about breathing. It is all of these and more. If a regular person who does not run were to start with the group, he or she could run along just fine … for a while. Perhaps this person will sprint to the head of the pack in a triumphant “a-ha!” and tear down the course with pardonable glee. But if this person has not set a pace, he or she is doomed to drop back within a few minutes to a huffing, puffing walker. Can this same person run that race, stay with the pack, and finish (though maybe not win at first) successfully? Yes, if a good pace is created, maintained, and honored. Runners create a pace through training. An Olympic runner will have a fine-tuned, fast pace that will win all but a few competitions out there. A regular mortal who just likes to run, and maybe race, will have a slower pace (8-minute miles as opposed to an Olympian’s 5-minute miles), but the mechanics are similar. A pace is created through regular, consistent running, synchronized breathing, and conditioning. An established pace, once set, can be accelerated over time. But it takes a lot of work for most people.

Consistency: runners who would like to race need to run consistently. Training schedules vary from person to person, but the overall idea is the same: be consistent. The distance or terrain or slope may change, but the consistency must be maintained. If a runner chooses a 5-day-per-week schedule, he or she can run, walk/jog, or do sprints at will, as long as those 5 days are consistent. The remaining two days can be used for complete rest, or just walk days. It varies, as mentioned before, by individual preference and athletic ability/health concerns.

Synchronized breathing: It is easy to tell the fitness level of any runner simply by listening to how that runner breathes. Fast, gasping breaths within the first mile will usually mean a lower level of fitness, while rhythmic, easy, timed breaths (or inaudible breathing) will lean more towards a higher level of fitness. The key with breathing is to give your body the oxygen it needs, at a steady intake, without overdoing it. The oxygen level will directly correlate with the pace. If the runner is trained for six miles at 2/2 breathing, then he or she can expect to do well at that set pace. What does that mean? 2/2 breathing is two breaths in for two strides, then two breaths out for two strides. Some runners can “waltz” breathe (1-2-3, 1-2-3) with 3/3. Or even three breaths in and two breaths out. Like consistency needs, breathing will vary from runner to runner. The pace will set itself around this pattern. If a runner can run 8-minute miles at 3/2 breathing, that is the pace. Perhaps this runner wants to move up to 7-minute miles. Adjust consistency to more running days than walking, step up breathing to 2/2, perhaps, and voila, a slightly faster pace. A runner will only be able to run well according to what his or her fitness pace allows. Sprint out of it during the fourth mile of a 10K, and yes, a runner may still finish, but the cardiopulmonary and muscular systems will have a much harder time. A broken pace will equal poor results.

Conditioning: Fitness improves with improved conditioning. As does pace. Start with a good, consistent program, get a good, consistent breathing pattern, and then condition to up the ante. Sprints, hills, difficult terrain (sand), and wind are all good “mix things up” conditioners. Please note, however, that these tools can be harder on the ligaments and joints than simple, even-paced work. Sprints and hills can increase the chance of shin splints or sore knees. Sandy, difficult terrain can be hard on the knees and ankles. Be careful when adding them to the program. A consistent, well-based running program will prepare the body for conditioning — add hills slowly and easily. Walk down them if necessary.

Racing tip: everyone has a set pace, as we’ve mentioned before. When a field of runners jumps at the gun and spreads out down the course, the faster people of course take the lead, with pace speeds fanning out accordingly. A runner can choose to “pace” with another runner that is traveling at relatively the same speed. If your pace is slightly faster than this other person, go ahead and pass. Your pace is your pace. Stay true to it. If another runner is just slightly faster, yet you can pace with them for a while, fine. But don’t break pace to match theirs, as you will tire faster and have a much more difficult time. Keep conditioning, though. Perhaps in a while, that faster pace will be yours, and you can finish with shorter and shorter times. Check the posted times after the race finishes. Some will have name, age group, and, to the far right, pace. The more you train, the smaller that number, your pace time, will become.

Bonnie Cox has been running 10-kilometer races since the age of nine. Still a competitive runner, she trains daily with her dogs and races 8-9 times per year. http://www.antlerhollowmillville.comhttp://millvillegrammarcop.blogspot.com

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