Altering Pace Control and Pace Regulation: Attentional Focus Effects during Running

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Abstract

Purpose

To date, there are no published studies directly comparing self-controlled (SC) and externally controlled (EC) pace endurance tasks. However, previous research suggests pace control may impact on cognitive strategy use and effort perceptions. The primary aim of this study was to investigate the effects of manipulating perception of pace control on attentional focus, physiological, and psychological outcomes during running. The secondary aim was to determine the reproducibility of self-paced running performance when regulated by effort perceptions.

Methods

Twenty experienced endurance runners completed four 3-km time trials on a treadmill. Subjects completed two SC pace trials, one perceived exertion clamped (PE) trial, and one EC pace time trial. PE and EC were completed in a counterbalanced order. Pacing strategy for EC and perceived exertion instructions for PE replicated the subjects’ fastest SC time trial.

Results

Subjects reported a greater focus on cognitive strategies such as relaxing and optimizing running action during EC than during SC. The mean HR was 2% lower during EC than that during SC despite an identical pacing strategy. Perceived exertion did not differ between the three conditions. However, increased internal sensory monitoring coincided with elevated effort perceptions in some subjects during EC and a 10% slower completion time for PE (13.0 ± 1.6 min) than that for SC (11.8 ± 1.2 min).

Conclusions

Altering pace control and pace regulation impacted on attentional focus. External control over pacing may facilitate performance, particularly when runners engage attentional strategies conducive to improved running efficiency. However, regulating pace based on effort perceptions alone may result in excessive monitoring of bodily sensations and a slower running speed. Accordingly, attentional focus interventions may prove beneficial for some athletes to adopt task-appropriate attentional strategies to optimize performance.

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