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When you're planning for a 50 mile, 20-hour event, breaks and pacing are a super important topic. We’ve heard the stories of teams making the mistake of too many breaks and not finishing in time. Sometimes, errors can occur with not enough breaks in the first part of the event, causing a team to miss the opportunity for early fixes on things like foot issues. Not paying attention to pacing can lead to anxiety and stress in team dynamics. Breaks allow the team to rest briefly, rehydrate and eat, and plan their next moves. Pacing takes breaks into account, but most importantly keeps your team on the event time goal. There is no one right way to strategize breaks and pacing, but in this post, we’d like to highlight some options for teams to consider.
The biggest advice is for this to be a topic of team conversation prior to the event, but then remain flexible to changes as conditions require – Adapt and Overcome!
Ruck 70 minutes, break 5 minutes (70/5). I like this as a starting strategy because a 70-minute ruck is easy to wrap your mind around. You can compartmentalize this as several 70-minute rucks with 5 minute breaks in-between. This is a great way to get through long stretches on the course, especially towards the end.
There are two big things to emphasize in this strategy. If you begin using this strategy, you won’t want to take the first break. You’ll feel too good. But, five minutes with your ruck off and doing some basic stretching will help you go further later in the course. Second, time your breaks. Five-minute breaks mean you are strictly stepping off at five minutes. You start gathering your things at three minutes and walk away at the five-minute mark. Each team should have someone in the role of Timekeeper, to make sure breaks don’t get away from you.
Ruck ten miles, break for ten minutes (10/10). This strategy can be slightly modified to fit with the waypoints, so the closest waypoint to every ten-mile interval becomes the break. This requires a slightly higher level of fitness than the 70/5 plan but does allow a team to move faster. The ten-minute breaks allow for foot care, a bathroom stop, and stretching – all important things! If your team can maintain this, this seems to be the best strategy.
Random break plan (?/?). This is basically what happens when a team does not discuss breaks. The biggest negative with this approach is you end up taking a lot of breaks, as they tend to be timed based on individual needs instead of team goals. You stop for Person A to use the restroom, for Person B to change socks, and for Person C to find something in their ruck. Without a plan for breaks, each of these stops turns into a longer time period, with no structure, and no one monitoring the time. This is not recommended!
Even if your team adopts a break plan you will want to account for additional breaks, as stuff will happen. A team has to be flexible, but the Timekeeper will need to monitor how many extra breaks are taken, and how this fits into the overall time plan. Having a strong Timekeeper is important, and ideally, this is someone’s only job on your team.
When we talk about pacing, we mean a minute per mile plan that will get you to the finish. We recommend you chose a 19-hour time frame in your planning. This is because you may not get your waypoints until 9 pm, so you may not leave the start point until 9:30 pm. It’s also to provide a cushion for the unexpected.
We recommend you plan for more than 50 miles, as many Star Courses have run long, either because of the placement of the waypoints or due to teams navigation errors. Your Timekeeper should have a minute per mile pace info for 50, 55, and 60-mile distances. We recommend you start your pace on the 60-mile distance. As you progress on the course and feel confident you will finish in less than 60 miles, your pace can slow.
An example of pacing planning:
19 hours = 1140 minutes
1140 – 50 minutes of breaks (ten minutes every ten miles at 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 miles) = 1090 minutes
1090 minutes \ 60 miles = 18.2 minutes per mile
1090 minutes \ 55 miles = 19.8 minutes per mile
1100 minutes (fewer breaks) \ 50 miles = 22 minutes per mile
This simple math shows how much faster you need to be when your distance is extended. It is essential to navigating well with the Not One Extra Step navigation plan. It also shows how breaks add up. Even minimalist ten-minute breaks every ten miles adds up to almost an hour of breaks!
Some pacing strategies to consider:
Fast out of the gate. This can be especially effective on a course like Washington DC where the first 30 miles are part of a long out and back. Start with a relatively fast pace and build a time cushion early in the event. Slow down a bit after the first 10-20 miles. This is not recommended for a very hilly course, as early burn out is a concern.
Smooth is fast. This means you pick a pace and stay with it. You find a pace that fits your pacing plan, and which all team members can maintain, and you try to stick with it. This is a strong endurance strategy that has a great chance of getting your team across the finish line together.
Interval Pace. This is not likely something teams adopt as an initial plan, but is more often a coping strategy. If you are behind on pace, perhaps due to navigation errors, you designate a couple of miles to speed up. This may happen one mile at a time. The team can do one 15 minute mile, then fall back to an 18-minute mile, then another 15-minute mile. By breaking up the catch-up miles into smaller distances, it becomes more mentally manageable for the team. Knowing you need to do this is the trick, and would fall under the role of the Timekeeper.