ARTICLE: Cross-Country Pack Mentality

Thought I should share a nerdy moment I had yesterday (I outdid even my own lofty heights here) as I ran my cross-country splits and the cross-country splits of two other runners through an analysis. This analysis was prompted by a question asked to me of whether a runner would have run faster if they had not started as such a fast pace.

From my observation the entire field (except perhaps the top-3) guys started out at a pace that was close to suicidal for them. I estimate most of the field ran the first kilometre in very close to their middle-distance paces. Here is what happened comparing two other runners splits with mine:


The numbers at the bottom are kilometre and the flat line in the middle is the average pace. By converting all three runners times into relative percentages of their average pace, they can be easily compared, notice some trends:

  • All three runners started at a pace well above what they could maintain (in reality one started at 3:08min/km, one 3:17min/km and the third 3:20min/km)
  • Each runner suffered an immediate dip on the second kilometre as heavy acidosis started to set in and recovered a bit of pace on the faster 3rd kilometre
  • This exact scenario replayed itself on the 4th, 5th and 6th kilometre. The bottom pace kept getting lower and the “peaks” lower as well as fatigue accumulated
  • All runners recover enough to mount a much faster last 600-770m (all three runners had different distances recorded for the distance after the sixth full kilometre
  • Runner 1 and I follow almost exactly the same pattern of pace relative to average. Runner 2 is slightly different, staying lower from kilometre 4-6 but rallying a relatively faster finish

Three samples are not enough to make general statements but if you compare this to the observations on the day, you may be seeing a reflection of the pack mentality that affects you when running cross-country. If everyone ran more steady would everyone run faster? Perhaps. If one runner broke the pattern and decided to run more evenly, ignoring the others, would he be faster? Probably. Kenan Furlong, my team-mate certainly showed this, starting well back at the start and then finishing a good 15 seconds ahead of me despite having slower road times this year. All potentially a reflection of superior pacing. But comforting to know that most of us jumped over the cliff together.