Track is my field: Mark Cullen's international track and field website featuring storytelling, commentary, and predictions and event analyses for the Olympics and World Championships. I'll be writing from the 2018 European Championships in Berlin in August. I'm active on Facebook and Twitter: @trackerati.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Pacing


Pacing played a crucial role in two notable races in July – and not in the best way.

A highlight of the Jerome Meet was Duane Solomon’s attempt to break the 600m world record of his coach, Johnny Gray. And Jordan Hasay made a much-publicized attempt at reaching both the B and A standards in the 10k to qualify for the World Championships.

Solomon was after Gray’s 1:12.81 and he missed it by less than half a second in 1:13.28. Solomon’s announced split goal was 46.5-47.0 for 400m. His pacer had an apparent PR of 45.42 from 2011 (IAAF website; it was listed as .12 slower in the meet program). The idea was that the pacer was to ‘pace’ 500m 
at one second under his PR, which he ran two years ago.

I was in the stands just past the finish line, and on the corner at 225m Solomon came up on his pacer and Solomon hesitated, almost imperceptibly. 

“There goes the world record,” I said to myself.

And at 350m, Solomon swung wide to pass the pacer, who had not yet stepped aside.

Think there’s half a second in those two moves?

Much was made of the effectiveness of the pacing in Jordan Hasay’s 10k as they nailed the goal pace of 15:55 at 5k. But the unevenness of the pace getting to 5k had to be tiring.

With 76.25 per lap as the goal, a start of 78.9 – 76.7 – 75.3 – 77.2 – 75.6 was by no means optimal. In distance running, this is more like roller coasting than pacing.

To give credit where it’s due, there were some stretches in which the pacing was terrific: the second mile all in the 75s, and a very consistent stretch in the 76s from laps 14-18. But a three lap drift into the 77s from laps 19-21 sealed the deal on this one; the A standard was not to be.

But at 500m to go, Hasay came up on her pacer and appeared to hesitate as well. Then, just before 400m to go, Hasay had to swing wide and pass him. Sound familiar?

Hasay got her B standard and is going to Worlds. But this had ripple effects on Tara Erdmann who then had to reach the A standard to get to Moscow. The A is 31:45, the B 32:05. Had Hasay run 1.42 seconds faster, Erdmann would have been looking at a qualifier 20 seconds slower. (Erdmann, as fate would have it, had an injured Achilles and did not come close to either standard in her 10k chase.)

Pacing is an art form and needs to be treated as such. A paced runner should never have to pass a pacer. Pacers need not only be far ahead of the goal pace in terms of ability, but especially in a world record attempt when so much is at stake, they need to have demonstrated the ability to nail the splits. (I’ve not named the pacers in either race since this really isn’t about them; all were doing their best in challenging situations.)

Surely poor pacing cost Solomon the 600m world record. And Hasay was not helped by the uneven pacing she received. Could Alberto Salazar not have produced a spare 29:00-minute 10k runner who has much more control of the pace than Hasay’s pacers did?

And finally, the athlete has a role in this, too: scream at the pacer ahead of you to get off the track! 

One word - “TRACK!” – and Duane Solomon would be a world record holder right now.

Epilogue: I was going to say that poor pacing cost Duane Solomon a place on the cover of Track and Field News...!


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