Frank Horwill



  • These articles were first published many year's ago and whilst some are as relevant today as they were when new, many are now mostly of historical interest as modern research and coaching methods have superseded them.

Getting the Pace Right

By Frank Horwill

Work physiologists are agreed that level-pace running is the best way to run most races. However, level-pace does not mean level effort. It means increased effort as the race progresses. We may, in a 1,500m race, handle a first lap of 70 seconds with some ease, we can also reach 800m at the same pace, but for the third lap and thereafter we have to increase our effort to remain on time. If, for example, we have a best time of 2:08 for 800 metres (64 secs / 400m), the fastest we can handle in a 1,500m event is 68 seconds per 400 metres, or 4 seconds per lap slower. This will give a time of 4:15. It will be seen that in a 1,500 metres race the fastest we can go through the first 800 metres is 8 seconds off our best time for 800 metres, and probably 11 seconds off is wiser.

The same applies to the 800 metres race. A first lap should not be faster than 4 seconds off one’s best time for 400 metres. Given a time of 60 seconds for 400 metres, to run the first lap in 62 seconds will rapidly put one in oxygen debt which will result in a rapid decline in speed, often ten seconds slower (ie 62-72 seconds).

In longer races (10km to marathon) even pace has greater significance. The more we work hills and attempt to "burn off" the opposition, the greater will be the drain on our glycogen reserve. A marathon which sees the first half run in 1 hour 30 minutes and the second part in 1 hour 50 minutes has been badly executed. The favoured method is to run 51 per cent of one’s time for the first half and 49 per cent for the second half.

For races lasting more than one hour it is not sufficient enough for us to eat big quantities of carbohydrates for the 48 hours before because some are burnt very quickly and NOT stored as glycogen. Long races require a high intake of low glycemic carbohydrates. Carbohydrates which are preferentially stored as glycogen include: fructose, soya beans, kidney beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, whole wheat spaghetti, oats, brown rice, buckwheat pancakes and whole wheat bread. High glycemic carbohydrates include glucose, honey, parsnips, carrots, white potatoes, bananas, raisins, white flour spaghetti, cornflakes, white rice, white flour pancakes and white bread. High glycemic carbohydrates can be taken 2 hours before competition and within 30 minutes afterwards. For example, three bananas sliced lengthways between two slices of bread will supply 600 calories of immediate energy.

For races from 5km to the marathon, and also for 10km cross country races, it is a good idea to draw up a tactical plan based on the answers to some pertinent questions:

  1. Am I short of training and not too fit? If the answer is yes, run three quarters of the distance of the race well within yourself and try to start passing others for the last quarter.
  2. Am I fit but not at my best yet? If so, run half the distance of the race comfortably and then start passing others to the finish.
  3. Am I very fit and at my peak? If so, run a quarter of the distance of the race will within yourself, and then start passing others to the end.

If difficulty is found in determining what part of the race one is in, calculate the winning time and apportion time accordingly. For example, if it is known that a 10km around Battersea Park is usually run in 37 minutes and 30 seconds, the runner in (1) above will run steady for 28 minutes. The athlete in (2) will run steady for around 18½ minutes. And an athlete in category (3) will only be taking it easy for 9½ minutes before blasting through the field. It is better to finish passing others rather than being passed by hordes in the last quarter of the race. Many athletes go out too fast in their races and are totally exhausted before the halfway is reached. That is not the way to record your best time nor does it make for good scoring for maximum team points. Get to know what 7 minute miling feels like (105 secs/400), get to know what is 6 mins / mile (90 secs / 400m) and 5 mins / mile (75 secs / 400m). This way you will quickly recognise what pace is good or bad for you. To do this you have to practise these different speeds with a watch in hand.


In 1960, in the National Cross Country championships, the writer covered the 3 x 3 mile course in exactly 18 minutes each lap, overtaking 250 runners in the last 3 miles to be first home for his club (QPH). He was then aged 33 years.