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Pacing Strategy from High-Frequency Field Data: More Evidence for Neural Regulation?


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: December 2011 - Volume 43 - Issue 12 - p 2405–2411
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182245367
Special Communications

Introduction We demonstrate a methodology that uncovers an athlete’s true pacing strategy from high-frequency (≤1 km) split field data, even if affected by high gradient variation on course. The method thus opens up the analysis of many previously opaque but popular undulating professional and amateur races to scientific scrutiny.

Methods The method is relatively simple to use in any standard statistical package, and execution only requires the addition of the altitude–distance trace of the event to a runner’s split times (e.g., as automatically collected by a modern Global Positioning System–enabled wristwatch). In addition, as opposed to assuming a pacing function (e.g., “J shaped,” “U shaped,” “all-out”) and testing this function on the data, the method uses a preliminary discovery step to suggest the most appropriate pacing function(s) to test on the data (if any).

Results The method is demonstrated with two novel case studies: Gebrselassie’s world-record Berlin marathon (September 2008) and a unique data set taken from several years of the Six Foot Track Ultramarathon (45 km, Sydney, Australia).

Conclusions In both cases, the method reveals highly variable pacing strategies on a microscale despite remarkable symmetry on a macroscale in one case adding weight to the recent complex system perspective of the neural regulator.

Supplemental digital content is available in the text.

1Department of Economics, Monash University, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA; and 2School of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, AUSTRALIA

Address for correspondence: Simon D. Angus, Ph.D., Department of Economics, Monash University, Melbourne 3800, Australia; E-mail:

Submitted for publication February 2011.

Accepted for publication May 2011.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (

©2011The American College of Sports Medicine