One of my best races started with me tangling in the legs of another runner, falling over and having to scramble to my feet to chase everyone down. It was my best friend who tripped me &, at 16 years old, best friends take their roles as supporters very, very seriously. She was distraught and had a terrible run. I, on the other hand, had the adrenaline-fuelled fun of a chase. I didn't notice the blood streaming from open wounds, and bruises hadn't yet appeared. Once vertical, I started very fast and then settled into a swift, steady pace for the remaining mile or so. I learned that day that a fast start feels really good - it seemed to open my lungs and, whilst there's always discomfort in the latter stages of a race, I'd got the major discomfort out of the way early and was able to just keep pushing. The pain seemed more tolerable. Since I started using a treadmill (Yes, yuck, but necessary.) this winter I've noticed that the excessive heat of the gym and the discomfort and boredom of the treadmill is more tolerable when I start my running at a fast pace. I use the "cross-country" programs with lots of hills and the same programs seem easier with a fast start and then a steady or varied pace afterwards. If I just adopt a steady pace boredom rapidly sets in and I accomplish less. I wondered if there was research to back up these observations. Is there evidence that employing a fast start effects improvements in breathing, oxygen utilisation, energy release and tolerance of exercise discomfort? Does a fast start improve performance?
Yes quite simply. There's accumulating evidence, from both cycling and running, that middle distance race performances are improved with a fast start. See the infographic above. No one's suggesting that you begin a marathon at a sprint. You'll have been stuck in a crowd at the start line and perhaps not even be warmed-up before the gun. However, we do need to question the notion that THE successful race strategy is to run steadily and finish with an injection of pace.
The infographic is based upon Turnes et al 2014 PLOS One paper that can be accessed here.
Start Fast, Finish Early by Lorna Sibbett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111621.