The structure of an ideal race can vary quite significantly depending on the primary objective of the plan—whether that is to run the fastest time possible, beat a particular competitor, win it all, or just simply finish).

The above is a graphical representation of how most people should run to achieve their fastest potential time on any given day for most distances up to perhaps 90-120 minutes—assuming a flat race. Looking at the graph you may find the information somewhat obvious and unprofound as most of us instinctively race this way. But without discipline and conscious self-awareness at the start line, even the most experienced racer is subject to the chaos and excitement of a race which can derail even the best of intentions.

The yellow dashed line represents the average pace of your race. To run your fastest time, you ideally want to meter out as even an effort as possible, with a few exceptions at the start and finish. Without going into great depth or detail, we all utilize three primary energy systems in running which are as follows:

  • Aerobic (requires the presence of oxygen to produce energy)
  • Anaerobic (does not require oxygen, but produces lactate / lactic acid which sets the stage for the rapid onset of fatigue)
  • ATP-CP (does not require oxygen nor does it produce any lactic acid, but supplies a very limited amount of energy)

At the start of the race (Stage 1), you should capitalize on the ATP-CP energy system which produces a very readily available source of energy stored in the muscle for very short, high intensity bursts of efforts (such as the start of a race) with no impact on oxygen supply. It is perfect for establishing your position in a race and is often referred to as a use-it-or-lose-it energy source because you can’t conserve it to use later in the race.

As the ATP-CP energy stores will be depleted rapidly within 10-20 seconds, it is of utmost importance to exhibit discipline despite how easy the adrenaline-fueled effort may feel and settle right into an even and “comfortable” pace (Stage 2) that you can maintain through to the end. This even effort will likely present itself as a slow degradation of pace as fatigue sets in and the energy cost to keep a particular pace goes up over time. Small drops in pace are normal and you should not be discouraged if this happens to you so long as you don’t drop off significantly at any point during the race.

Throughout the majority of the race you will have been fueled primarily by an efficient, aerobic energy system. But as you approach the end of the race and seek to finish completely depleted, your effort should increase (Stage 3). The increased effort at this point in the race will seek greater and greater contributions from the anaerobic system, and along with it an influx of lactic acid and lactate build-up. The timing and doling out of this increased effort should be such that you balance and maximize the amount of time spent in this highly taxing state against the benefit of going faster (you know the wheels are coming off but if you push just hard enough they will fall off right after you cross the finish line). If you’ve run a good race, your pace in this last stage should only increase slightly with the increased effort as you recruit different fast-twitch muscle fibers and utilize the extra energy produced by the anaerobic process. If you find yourself able to all-out sprint or finish not tired, you probably erred too much on the side of caution and ran under-paced. If your pace continually drops and you can’t recover, your problem was probably that you either overestimated your fitness (and corresponding pace) for the day, or you didn’t dial in your pace until it was too late.

This may all seem overtly simple and perhaps too obvious to many of you. But whoever you may be—expert and novice alike—the key (and most difficult element) to mastery and successful execution toward being able to run your fastest race is knowing what that average pace should be on any given day, and that may change greatly from day to day, and even intraday. This is where practice and experience will help you understand your body and its limitations.

Stay tuned for the OCR version of this.