Posted by: Joe English | July 24, 2011

Training — Five Tips for Running Through Fatigue

running-advice-bugI was pacing one of my coaching clients yesterday and about six miles into our run, when the pace was starting to get to him, I rattled off the latest mile split. We were still on pace and he exclaimed, “wow, I thought I was dying.” After the run, I was explaining to him some things about fatigue that I thought I would share with the wider world out there.

Fatigue is one of the most important sensations that runners need to become aware of and train to handle. Think for a moment about what’s happening when you start feeling fatigue. Your body starts to get tired, your muscles start giving you the signal that they are unhappy and then your brain gets involved and thinks, “I’m dying here.” This is perhaps the most critical point for long-distance runners. In that moment, you will do one of two things: keep running at the same pace or slow down. Most runners will slow down as a response to this sensation. But what’s important here is that in that moment you are being given a signal from your body and you have a choice in how you deal with it. Your reaction to the stimuli is what’s essential here.

The tricky thing here is that most of the time, you don’t actually need to slow down, but it will feel a lot better if you do. If you have been training at your target pace and you’re in the ballpark, these sensations of fatigue in the late miles of a run are totally normal. But most of the time the body has the capacity to keep going, it just doesn’t feel the same. Similar to doing a whole bunch of push-ups, as your arms gets tired, each push-up gets increasingly more painful. This is the same type of sensation that you’re feeling when running.

As fatigue gets more intense, you will be challenged more and more to respond by slowing down. But the fact is that through proper training, you can run through this fatigue, keep on pace, and essentially “choose” to deal with this stimuli by treating it an indicator of what’s going on in your body, rather than a signal that means you have to slow down.

Here are five things that you can do to prepare for fatigue, allowing you to recognize the signals and deal with it:

1. Find yourself a pacer — Perhaps the first thing that can be done to practice running through fatigue is to have someone else pay attention to — and keep — the pace. As you’re getting more and more tired, if you only have to hang on to the shoulder of your pacer, you can just keep grinding it out, gritting your teeth, and sticking to the pace. The pace is going to feel progressively harder, but if you’ve got a good pacer, they will do the work of keeping an eye on the clock and you just have to keep up. I use this method extensively with my clients, pacing them precisely through their workouts and telling them to “just stay on my shoulder” and “I’ll worry about the pace.” The important thing is then to debrief and think about how the pacing felt and to start to overcome the mental barriers and resist the urge that the body is giving you to slow down.

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