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.