A blog by runners. For runners.

Study: Race alongside others if you want to PR

Race alongside others for a PRBefore you toe the line of your next race, take note: consider racing alongside other runners for the whole race if you’re gunning for a PR. A new study from the Journal of Sports Sciences sheds light on running in a pack.

For the study, researchers analyzed the split times and running behavior of elite athletes who competed in the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships between 2007 and 2014. They found that runners who ran in packs for the entire race slowed the least during the race. Competitors who ran in “nomadic packs” – meaning they were in packs at each of the 5K splits analyzed but were surrounded by different runners at each split – also fared well.

The runners who slowed down the most were the ones were in the pack at the 5K mark, but broke off to run solo for the rest of the race. Athletes who ran alone for the entire race did better pacing-wise than the ones who separated from their group, but not as well as runners who stayed in a pack for the whole race.

Why does running in a pack work?
If you watch elite runners race, you’ll notice that they almost always run in a pack. The authors didn’t speculate why racing in a pack is so beneficial, but we have a few theories:

  • You may be more likely to push yourself when you’re surrounded by “competition”: For most recreational runners, the only competition is the clock. However, you may be less likely to slow your pace at mile 10 of a half marathon when you’re surrounded by others. The pack may give you the motivation to keep pushing.
  • Running in a pack may stop you from going out too fast: If you run with a pace group, this strategy can prevent you from going out too fast – and then blowing up in the later miles. Of course, for this to work, you’d have to choose the right pace group for your ability and the pace group leader would have to run a consistent clip for the entire race.
  • Other runners can help shield wind: If you’re running alone on a windy day, you’ll have zero protection from the wind. But when you run with others, their bodies can block the wind at certain spots on the course which can help you conserve energy.

How to race in a pack        
If you want to give running in a pack a try, keep the following in mind:

  • Choose a big race. The more runners entered in a race, the greater the chances are that you’ll be surrounded by others.
  • Select a race with pace teams. Sticking with a pace group is your best bet for running a race in a pack. Just make sure you talk to the pace group leader beforehand so you know his or her race strategy. Some pacers run an even pace for the whole race, while others aim to negative split.
  • Train with a running group. Check out a local running club, running store, or fitness center to see if they are offering training programs for an upcoming race. Some may offer 8- or 16-week half marathon training programs that include weekly group long runs. If you meet a few other runners around your pace, you can all agree to run the race together.

Written by Jen Matz.