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

Noel Brick, Mark Campbell, Richard Metcalfe, Jacqueline L. Mair, Tadhg MacIntyre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: To date there are no published studies directly comparing self-controlled and externally-controlled 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. A 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 self-controlled pace (SC), one perceived exertion clamped (PE), and one externally-controlled pace (EC) time-trial. PE and EC were completed in a counterbalanced order. Pacing strategy for EC and perceived exertion instructions for PE replicated subjects’ fastest SC time-trial. Results: Subjects reported a greater focus on cognitive strategies such as relaxing and optimizing running action during EC than SC. Mean heart rate was 2% lower during EC than 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 SC (11.8 ± 1.2 min). Conclusion: 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)879-886
Number of pages8
JournalMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
Issue number5
Early online date15 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 May 2016


  • Attentional strategies
  • perceived exertion
  • pacing
  • metacognition
  • endurance


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