The Science Behind Competition and Winning in Athletics: Using World-Level Competition Data to Explore Pacing and Tactics

Florentina J. Hettinga, Andrew M. Edwards, Brian Hanley

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19 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


The purpose of this study was to examine whether World Championship and Olympic medallist endurance athletes pace similarly to their race opponents, where and when critical differences in intra-race pacing occur, and the tactical strategies employed to optimally manage energy resources. We analyzed pacing and tactics across the 800, 1,500, 5,000, 10,000 m, marathon and racewalk events, providing a broad overview for optimal preparation for racing and pacing. Official electronic splits from men's (n = 275 performances) and women's (n = 232 performances) distance races between 2013 and 2017 were analyzed. Athletes were grouped for the purposes of analysis and comparison. For the 800 m, these groups were the medalists and those finishing 4th to 8th (“Top 8”). For the 1,500 m, the medalists and Top 8 were joined by those finishing 9th to 12th (“Top 12”), whereas for all other races, the Top 15 were analyzed (those finishing 9th to 15th). One-way repeated measures analysis of variance was conducted on the segment speeds (p < 0.05), with effect sizes for differences calculated using Cohen's d. Positive pacing profiles were common to most 800 m athletes, whereas negative pacing was more common over longer distances. In the 1,500 m, male medalists separated from their rivals in the last 100 m, whereas for women it was after 1,200 m. Similarly, over 5,000 m, male medalists separated from the slowest pack members later (4,200 m; 84% of duration) than women (2,500 m; 50% of duration). In the 10,000 m race, the effect was very pronounced with men packing until 8,000 m, with the Top 8 athletes only dropped at 9,600 m (96% of duration). For women, the slowest pack begin to run slower at only 1,700 m, with the Top 8 finishers dropped at 5,300 m (53% of duration). Such profiles and patterns were seen across all events. It is possible the earlier separation in pacing for women between the medalists and the other runners was because of tactical racing factors such as an early realization of being unable to sustain the required speed, or perhaps because of greater variation in performance abilities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number11
JournalFrontiers in Sports and Active Living
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2019


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