An Analysis of Pacing Strategies During Men’s World-Record Performances in Track Athletics

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Ross Tucker
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Michael I. Lambert
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Timothy D. Noakes
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Purpose:

To analyze pacing strategies employed during men's world-record performances for 800-m, 5000-m, and 10,000-m races.

Methods:

In the 800-m event, lap times were analyzed for 26 world-record performances from 1912 to 1997. In the 5000-m and 10,000-m events, times for each kilometer were analyzed for 32 (1922 to 2004) and 34 (1921 to 2004) world records.

Results:

The second lap in the 800-m event was significantly slower than the first lap (52.0 ± 1.7 vs 54.4 ± 4.9 seconds, P < .00005). In only 2 world records was the second lap faster than the first lap. In the 5000-m and 10,000-m events, the first and final kilometers were significantly faster than the middle kilometer intervals, resulting in an overall even pace with an end spurt at the end.

Conclusion:

The optimal pacing strategy during world-record performances differs for the 800-m event compared with the 5000-m and 10,000-m events. In the 800-m event, greater running speeds are achieved in the first lap, and the ability to increase running speed on the second lap is limited. In the 5000-m and 10,000-m events, an end spurt occurs because of the maintenance of a reserve during the middle part of the race. In all events, pacing strategy is regulated in a complex system that balances the demand for optimal performance with the requirement to defend homeostasis during exercise.

The authors are with the UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Dept of Human Biology, University of Cape Town, Newlands 7700 South Africa.

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