Risk Perception Influences Athletic Pacing Strategy

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Abstract

Purpose

The objective of this study is to examine risk taking and risk perception associations with perceived exertion, pacing, and performance in athletes.

Methods

Two experiments were conducted in which risk perception was assessed using the domain-specific risk taking (DOSPERT) scale in 20 novice cyclists (experiment 1) and 32 experienced ultramarathon runners (experiment 2). In experiment 1, participants predicted their pace and then performed a 5-km maximum effort cycling time trial on a calibrated Kingcycle mounted bicycle. Split times and perceived exertion were recorded every kilometer. In experiment 2, each participant predicted their split times before running a 100-km ultramarathon. Split times and perceived exertion were recorded at seven checkpoints. In both experiments, higher and lower risk perception groups were created using median split of DOSPERT scores.

Results

In experiment 1, pace during the first kilometer was faster among lower risk perceivers compared with higher risk perceivers (t(18) = 2.0, P = 0.03) and faster among higher risk takers compared with lower risk takers (t(18) = 2.2, P = 0.02). Actual pace was slower than predicted pace during the first kilometer in both the higher risk perceivers (t(9) = −4.2, P = 0.001) and lower risk perceivers (t(9) = −1.8, P = 0.049). In experiment 2, pace during the first 36 km was faster among lower risk perceivers compared with higher risk perceivers (t(16) = 2.0, P = 0.03). Irrespective of risk perception group, actual pace was slower than predicted pace during the first 18 km (t(16) = 8.9, P < 0.001) and from 18 to 36 km (t(16) = 4.0, P < 0.001). In both experiments, there was no difference in performance between higher and lower risk perception groups.

Conclusions

Initial pace is associated with an individual’s perception of risk, with low perceptions of risk being associated with a faster starting pace. Large differences between predicted and actual pace suggest that the performance template lacks accuracy, perhaps indicating greater reliance on momentary pacing decisions rather than preplanned strategy.

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