Startline Coaching

Runners often think that they should run a consistent mile-by-mile pace to maximize their race performance. However, it is not quite that simple. Anyone who has actually run a race knows that their pace for any given mile is impacted significantly by terrain; gravity significantly increases the energy demand at any given pace, creating fatigue and the need to recover.

A better approach is to aim for even energy pacing.

We all know uphill is harder than the flats. Too often athletes charge up a hill trying to maintain a close-to-target pace. Dr. Jack Daniels has produced some excellent charts that show the impact of grade on oxygen demand when using a treadmill. The chart below shows how much more oxygen consumption (V02) is needed to “maintain” pace as the grade increases. What is startling is how even a small increase in grade can dramatically change energy demand.

For example: If a runner holds 8:00/mile on a 2% grade, it will feel like 7:08/mile pace. This demonstrates clearly that trying to hold one even pace is detrimental to your race performance and that you will significantly overrun your pacing strategy (unless, of course, you are running on a flat course).

10:00 Mile9:14 Mile8:35 Mile8:00 Mile7:30 Mile7:04 Mile
0% gradeV02 27.4
Pace 10:00
V02 30.3
Pace 9:14
V02 33.3
Pace 8:35
V02 36.3
Pace 8:00
V02 39.3
Pace 7:30
V02 42.4
Pace 7:04
1% gradeV02 29.7
Pace 9:23
V02 32.8
Pace 8:40
V02 35.9
Pace 8:04
V02 39.1
Pace 7:33
V02 42.2
Pace 7:05
V02 45.4
Pace 6:41
2% gradeV02 32.0
Pace 8:50
V02 35.3
Pace 8:11
V02 38.5
Pace 7:37
V02 41.9
Pace 7:08
V02 45.2
Pace 6:42
V02 48.5
Pace 6:20
3% gradeV02 34.3
Pace 8:22
V02 37.8
Pace 7:45
V02 41.2
Pace 7:14
V02 44.7
Pace 6:46
V02 48.1
Pace 6:22
V02 51.5
Pace 6:02
4% gradeV02 36.6
Pace 7:56
V02 40.3
Pace 7:21
V02 43.8
Pace 6:52
V02 47.4
Pace 6:27
V02 51.0
Pace 6:04
V02 54.6
Pace 5:45
5% gradeV02 38.9
Pace 7:34
V02 42.8
Pace 7:00
V02 46.4
Pace 6:33
V02 50.2
Pace 6:09
V02 53.9
Pace 5:48
V02 57.6
Pace 5:30
6% gradeV02 41.3
Pace 7:13
V02 45.3
Pace 6:42
V02 49.1
Pace 6:16
V02 53.0
Pace 5:53
V02 56.9
Pace 5:33
V02 60.7
Pace 5:16
Excerpted from Jack Daniels Running Formula 3rd Edition

The key lesson from this analysis is this: when you hit a hill, slow down & control your effort, and similarly increase pace down hill. Always take into account the impact of gravity on your ability to perform. An effective strategy for the same sample 8:00 min pace runner, is to slow down to about a 9:14 min pace when running up a hill of 2% grade. As you can see above, the runner will still be consuming oxygen at a consistent V02 of about 35.3, with about the same energy cost of an 8:11 pace on flat ground.

When thinking about your next race, consider the terrain in your pacing plan. Taking an even energy pacing approach will ensure you do not overrun portions of the course forcing you recover. For the New Yorkers who read this blog, next time you are racing in central park and facing the northern hill, hold back as you climb and you will crest with strength giving you the opportunity to pass the many runners who climbed too fast and are recovering from going out too hard. Chances are that you will never see them again as you whistle by.

Moreover, this approach will delay the impacts of fatigue and will result in a stronger overall performance. Experienced racers know that hills wear down their competitors and the race is won at the end when the field has weakened. Nothing inspires more than having gas in the engine and passing competitors as the finish approaches!

Run well, run smart.

Coach Peter.

I am often asked by athletes about breathing technique for running. I’d like to address this with a three part answer:

  1. Principally breathe in and out through your mouth. During exercise, we are most concerned with Oxygen delivery to the lungs and blood stream and Carbon Dioxide expulsion from the lung and blood stream. Your nose can certainly participate, but the most effective method is to enable the biggest airway. Solely nose breathing is restrictive and decreases O2/C02 exchange. You have a big hole in the front of your head to draw in & expel air, you should use it!
  2. Belly Breathe. Chest breathing is also restrictive and does not make full use of the capacity of your lungs. Breathe in and out using your diaphragm vs. top of your chest. Your belly will expand along with your lungs enabling greater lung capacity.
  3. Adopt a 2-2 breath pattern. Most runners seek to achieve 180 steps/minute cadence as they run. A 2 steps inhale 2 steps exhale pattern has the benefit of enabling the greatest amount of O2/CO2 exchange and works well for paces up from EZ/Endurance runs to 10k/5K. Only during the finishing kick would you find yourself breathing with the more extreme 2-1 or 1-2 breath pattern. Note: For long EZ/Endurance runs, you should also periodically try a 3-3 breath pattern. This is not because a 3-3 breath is optimal, but because if you cannot hold a 3-3 pattern you are running too hard for the purpose of an EZ/Endurance workout.

Enjoy your running and check in on your breath as you run. I personally advocate running without music or other distractions. Yes! I can hear the whining and complaining from here, but this approach will allow you to stay in tune with your body and its physiological responses to exercise stress, and also toughen you mentally for racing. Your breath is a key physiological indicator and guide for pacing control. Listen to your breath and don’t shut it out. Your breath is a fully redundant pacing feedback system and, if you are in touch with it, it will no longer matter if your Garmin malfunctions or the battery dies – not that this ever happens.

Coach Peter.

This weekend’s NYC Marathon was quite windy and blustery. The impact of the wind is easy to under estimate. Studies have shown that the energy cost differential of running outside (even on a still day) vs. indoors on the treadmill is significant. This is because you are developing a headwind outdoors vs. running in still air on the treadmill. This leads to the scientifically supported recommendation from coaches to increase the treadmill to a 1% incline to simulate outdoor running.

That said, if you have a blustery day like yesterday the impact is even more significant. At points, runners would have faced 8+ mph winds, add in an average pace of 6-7 mph and everyone is pushing into a 14 mph headwind. If your day yesterday was tough, this may be a very good reason. The energy cost differential, while perceived as sustainable early in the race, will cost you dearly toward the end of the race unless you account for it in your race strategy.

All cyclists know the advantages of slippery bike shapes, deep section wheels, and reduction of frontal surface area on race performance and cycling economy. Moreover, at higher speeds the wind resistance impact curve gets steeper and steeper. It is not a linear relationship. Finally, a vertical runner in loose running clothing is far from an optimized aerodynamic shape.

So what does this mean? Hide in the lee of the pack as much as possible to reduce the impact of a windy day and get used to running closer to others in training. Channel the cyclist in you and be tactical about where you are in the group throughout your race. Hide behind the tall runners, make moves when the wind is with you and not against you and preserve your energy for when you most need it, which is at the end of the race. It’s fun and engages your mind throughout the race as well.

Run fast, run smart.

Coach Peter

I had the pleasure of meeting & listening to the legendary running coach Dr. Jack Daniels PhD at the #BrooklynRunCo this morning. It was particularly fitting on the eve of the #NYCMarathon.

As endurance athletes, we must meter out the energy we have, specifically glycogen, across the entire duration of the race. The energy consumption curve at higher paces/intensities is significantly steeper and grows steeper as we increase pace. The result is that all too often marathoners burn out in the later miles, struggle to complete, and positive split.

Dr. Daniels’s sage advice is to hold back in the early miles no matter how good you feel. Conserve your energy reserves, and reduce the fatigue impact of the race. This strategy sets you up for a strong close and negative split even when the back of the race has more challenging terrain. The world’s best marathoners all negative split because, even at the ferocious paces that they run, they are all going out easier than they can run and intend to run.

Race well marathoners!

Coach Peter

Photo credit: dailymail.co.uk

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