It's Science

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ever wonder why you run faster during a race? Or why you just seem to fly off the starting line during a 5k even though you told yourself before the start to 'take it easy'? Well it turns out it's science. A recent article in the Physiology & Behavior journal looked at "the influence of the presence and absence of competitors on pacing, overall running performance, and mood state during a self-paced run". Basically they compared how amateur runners (like me) ran 3 km alone verse being in a group. The results are not particularly surprising. The runners ran faster overall, faster during the first 500 m, and perceived the effort/fatigue level at the end as less than when running alone.

I'm on the far right in the green. There's nothing like the pre race jitters.
The findings of this study suggest "that the presence of competitors induces a fast start, which results in an improved overall performance and reduced post-exercise vigor scores, compared to an individual run." There is something going on in the brain that makes us able to run faster, do better, and feel less tired about the whole experience when we have competition. In other words if you want to become a faster runner it's a good idea to run more races!

Look at these silly boys madly charging up the hill as the gun goes off.

For shorter distances, like a 5k, it's not always beneficial to fight the "run-fast" urge at the start. Going out fast against competition doesn't necessarily mean you will run slower overall. In fact the study indicated that running the first 500 m fast is part of how you end up with a faster overall time. Everyone seems to talk about how beneficial negative splits are. They certainly are the goal for longer races but not necessarily for the 5k. Other studies have shown that running the first mile of a 5k 3% faster than goal pace is the optimal pacing strategy. Forget trying to achieve a negative split, just run fast the first mile....but not too fast. How fast is too fast? If the first mile is run more than 6% faster than the goal pace you are likely to crash and burn. So if you're running a 5k, don't feel so bad about going out fast, you just might end up with PR.

In other news: I am enjoying enduring my taper week. Not running is actually harder than it sounds. I also have the strong urge to go pick up heavy metal things and put them back down in an attempt to build muscle, but I am resisting that urge so my body is rested, recovered, and ready for the Half Marathon on Sunday.

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