The hazards of a fast start

I would be even prouder than I am of having finished the Paris Marathon a month ago if I hadn’t messed it up a bit. With the benefit of hindsight I did several things wrong: my time goal was unrealistic in light of my fitness, I made no adjustment to that goal to account for it being fairly warm on the day, and… I committed the MOST common mistake in the book by running the first couple of miles too quickly. Why did I do the last of these when I was fully aware it was a no-no? This article, and in particular the passage below, offers a fascinating explanation:

Going out too fast is caused partly by the excitement of the race. This excitement releases a surge of adrenaline, which changes our perception of effort and time. I’ve seen my Heart Rate while standing at the start line reach well over 100 BPM, a sign of the adrenaline that has been released. A good taper will cause us to feel far stronger at the start of the race than we do in training, compounding the effects of the adrenaline. Another factor behind going out too fast is the optical illusion of having runners around you. On most training runs we have nobody blocking our vision, so we see our forward motion represented by the ground and scenery appearing to move towards us. These visual clues are an important part of our sense of pace. At the start of most races, all we can see is other runners, with little of the ground or scenery visible. Because most of the runners will be moving a similar speed, they will appear stationary, and a key visual clue to our pace is lost. If the other runners are actually going faster, then the illusion becomes more intense on we can get a sense of moving backwards even though we are running faster than we should.

I’m having another go, with the benefit of ‘real’ experience to guide me, later this year in Bournemouth.


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