Why the right pacing in training and in racing is important

A runner on her morning run in Eldoret, Kenya.
 Photo by Justin Lagat
Whether one is pacing themselves or is being paced by other runners, choosing the right pace to use is the key to getting the best results out of any workout or race for any runner. Starting out a run too fast often leads to overall poor performance in the end, or even having to stop mid-way in a run. 

Just like in all the other elements of training, if not applied well, it becomes useless and might even be counterproductive.

In training, we have jogging, easy, moderate, and hard runs. Every run has a reason. Harder runs help build the aerobic capacity while the easier runs help in recovery while at the same time assisting in building endurance and muscle strength. Moderate and tempo runs help the body get used to the racing conditions.

A pacesetter is there to ensure that the runner maintains the right pace that will help them meet their goals both in a race and in training. They are not there to push the runner to run more than their ability as this will often result in a bad race. At times, some pacesetters end up competing with the runners they are supposed to help!

It is very common for elite Kenyan women runners to have male pacesetters accompanying and pacing them in their training and also during their races. In fact, some male runners are earning their living as professional women pace setters here in Kenya with some of the biggest camps here paying a stable monthly salary for their services.

Experienced pace setters know when to stay in front of the runners they are pacing, to run side by side, and even to run behind them.

The first time I paced a female runner in a race was in 2007 and it was a great success. It was a very crowded 10K race in Nairobi. The woman I was pacing was a big star and was starting slightly ahead of us as is the norm in many races to have faster runners in front of slower runners. To avoid losing each other in the race our strategy was that she starts the race and tries to maintain the pace with the leading women as I come out slowly from behind to find her. I caught up with her as the road became less crowded within the first kilometer of the race, and we began to run side by side.

We saw a cyclist ahead which was an indication that there was a woman ahead of us and we slowly closed the gap. We found two women, one from our camp and another one. As we passed them, the lady from our camp stuck behind us for a while, but we soon left her as well.

“Here is the first woman!” Spectators who lined the route kept shouting and encouraging the woman I was pacing. Other male runners who seemed to have lost hope in their own race joined us to form a big pack, in the last 2km of the race. Some even began to block me and try to be the ones controlling the pace and urging the woman to keep going!

It was a fulfilling experience for me as we crossed the finish line together with the woman and it took a while before the second and third finishers came to finish the race as well. I began to see myself as a great pacesetter and the next year, I did pace another big star in her training. She went and ran a great race abroad, then surprised me with a bag full of training shoes and apparel from her sponsor.

From the various experiences I have had pacing different runners, I have learned that it is an art to pick the best position to stay, especially in training, whether in front of or beside the runner. Sometimes, there could be a definite pace to stick to and at times it could be a bit windy and there is a need to block the wind for the runner. Staying beside the runner helps one see how they are struggling and when there is a need to slow down a bit or even to increase the pace. Staying at the front at times leads to taking the runner too fast and having to slow down again for them to catch up, leading to uneven pacing.

To get the best out of a training program, or a race; one has to run their runs and races at the right pace.

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