Background: Pacing has been investigated in different kinds of ultra-marathon races, but not in one of the toughest ultra-marathons in the world, the 'Spartathlon'.
Objective: The aim of the present study was to analyse the pacing of female and male finishers competing in the 'Spartathlon' in regards to their age and performance groups.
Methods: A total of 2598 runners (2255 men and 343 women) finishing 'Spartathlon' between 2011 and 2019 were analysed. We selected 10 checkpoints with split times corresponding to important race sections. Average running speed was calculated for each participant and the average checkpoint running speed for each of the 10 race checkpoints. Furthermore, to assess the pacing strategy of each runner, the percentage of change in checkpoint speed (CCS) in relation to the average race speed was calculated (for each of 10 checkpoints). Finally, the average change in checkpoint speed (ACCS) was calculated for each participant as a mean of the 10 CCSs.
Results: Both women and men slowed down through the first 7 checkpoints but increased running speed towards the end of the race (reverse J-shaped pacing). Men showed a significantly greater CCS in the first and second checkpoint (p < 0.01 and p < 0.05, respectively), whereas women showed a more significant change in CCS in the last checkpoint (p < 0.05). Furthermore, age and sex showed no effect on ACCS, whereas ACCS differed between the performance groups. In particular, the slowest and the fastest runners showed a more minor change in ACCS than the two medium groups of both men and women (p < 0.01).
Conclusions: In summary, successful finishers in 'Spartathlon' showed a reverse J-shaped pacing curve with a decrease in running speed from the start to the 7th checkpoint and an increase in running speed thereafter. This strategy was most probably due to the profile of the race course. Men showed a more significant change in checkpoint speed in the first two checkpoints, whereas women showed a more substantial change in the last checkpoint. Age and sex did not affect average checkpoint speed, whereas this speed was different between the different performance groups. The slowest and the fastest runners showed fewer changes in average checkpoint speed than the two medium groups in men and women.
Keywords: Age; Performance; Sex difference; Sport; Ultra-marathon.