Pacing for Races - Guest Post by Mike Caviston

As promised, we have the pleasure of presenting a guest post today. Mike Caviston has been sharing his research on pacing in rowing and other sports on the Concept II message board for some time now. He was kind enough to agree to putting this post together for our readers. Thank you Mike!

I asked Mike to introduce himself, and while he covers most of it, I think he does so modestly. He doesn't mention below his three CRASH-B wins, his 1988 World Record for lightweights or his 2002 6:18.2 World Record for the 40-49 lightweights which still stands. I'm sure I've missed a few things but suffice it to say Mike isn't just reporting scientific theory - he has lived his research and the results speak for themselves!

My name is Mike Caviston and I have long had an interest in the physiology of training and racing for many sports but especially rowing. I have a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Michigan, where I have been a Lecturer since 1994, primarily teaching
courses in Exercise Physiology and Sports Biomechanics. I compete in indoor rowing (40+LW category) and for more than 20 years have been involved off and on as a coach with the U of M’s men’s and/or woman’s rowing programs. My last stint was as conditioning coach for the
women’s team from 2000-2004, when I designed a training program called the Wolverine Plan (details at

To achieve peak performance during any race (certainly a 2000m rowing race) requires optimal pacing, though this is often overlooked by coaches. Neither is the topic especially well covered in the scientific literature. A few published studies tend to confirm my belief that even or negative pacing results in the fastest times for events that last in the range of 5-10’ (as opposed to the all-out start approach favored almost universally by rowers, where the opening 500m is the fastest segment of the race); results from other studies aren’t so clear. Frustratingly, the designs of several experiments on pacing don’t accurately reflect real racing conditions. I decided to search for results that included split data from elite competitions (Olympic and World Championship finals) and do my own analyses. I found sporadic results for events from running, swimming, cycling, and speed skating, as well as ample results for rowing. I also analyzed results for indoor rowing from the CRASH-Bs. My general approach was to compare “winners” (top half of the field) to “losers” (bottom half) on the basis of pacing, focusing on the speed of the first segment of the race (e.g., first 500m of a 2K rowing race) expressed as a percent of final speed. Overwhelmingly, I found that for all sports the faster, more successful athletes started more slowly (relative to their final times) than their less successful competitors. Complete data and more details can be found in a discussion on the Concet2 web site’s Training Forum.

Here is a quick summary of some of my major findings and conclusions:

• As illustrated by data from indoor rowing, the faster the start (relative to final average pace), the worse the overall performance. Starting extremely fast results in what is commonly referred to as a “fly-and-die”, but starting even a little faster than the final average pace results in suboptimal performance. The data shows a clear negative correlation between start % and final time. My recommendation is to start at a pace 1-2% slower than what is estimated as actual capability for the race, and to slowly and gradually build intensity to the finish.
• What has been shown to be true for indoor rowing surely applies to rowing on the water. Classic OTW strategy involves a fast start, cruising the middle, and sprinting at the end. Analyses of indoor results show this strategy to be less effective than simple negative splits (each successive portion of the race as fast as or faster than the one before). Since so few crews have raced with a negative-split strategy, it is difficult to show with much statistical weight that negative splits are more effective, but there is still evidence that in international competition negative splits are at least as effective, and possibly more effective, than the traditional fast-slow-slow-fast race breakdown. As with indoor rowing, the outdoor rowing data reveals a clear trend that faster starts (% of final pace) result in poorer performance.
• In addition to very clear evidence that all-out starts are not optimal for racing the 2K distance, there is evidence (less conclusive) that all-out starts are not advisable for shorter races either (i.e., 1000m or less).

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