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