When you fatigue during a run, one of two things typically happens. You either maintain your current effort and slow your pace or increase your effort to maintain your current pace. To maintain a constant pace for an entire run, you need to either improve your ability to run while fatigued or train your body to postpone fatigue.
Below are four keys and four drills to prepare your body to perform while tired in order to maintain a constant jogging pace.
1. Energize and hydrate. Start your training runs and races with a full tank—a combination of carbohydrates (including some fiber), protein, healthy fat and water. Good choices for your pre-run meal include:
- Scrambled eggs with spinach and avocado, fruit on the side
- Oatmeal mixed with dried tart cherries, cocoa powder, almond butter and protein powder
- Quinoa mixed with fresh berries, walnuts and a touch of honey
2. Focus. Just as a teacher might tell you to pay attention in class, pay attention to your running. As your mind drifts, your pace slows (even if you don't realize it). Rather than contemplating your day, rocking out to music, or checking your watch every 30 seconds to calculate your pace, pay attention to your breathing, your arm swing, your stride and your foot strike. If nothing else, just zone out and go!
3. Practice negative splits. It may sound funny, but maintaining a constant jogging pace involves practicing at different speeds. Race day brings a lot of excitement, which makes it easy to start too quickly and tire early. It's much better to start slow and finish strong. Negative splitting means running the second half of your run faster than the first as a result of a gradual build-up, rather than "flipping a switch" at the halfway point.
4. Stay healthy, stay consistent. It takes the body approximately eight weeks to adapt to a new exercise program. If you skip workouts during those weeks, you may feel like you're constantly starting over or not getting faster. Consistency is also key. Run three to five days per week without repeating the same workout twice in one week. Always warm up and cool down. Listen to your body—take extra rest when you need it. Add variety to your training program. Doing the same workout day after day may lead to an overuse injury.
Jogging Pace Drills
Do each of these every four to six weeks:
Negative Split Run. Start your run at a nearly embarrassingly slow pace and gradually build throughout the run. Kick it up a notch every half mile or so until the last mile is at, or slightly faster than, your race pace goal. You should finish this run feeling strong and not overly tired. A GPS watch is useful for such runs. You may even try setting the watch to "average pace" mode and test your ability to finish with the pace near your goal race pace after the purposely slow start. If you do not have a GPS, use a simple watch and either run an out-and-back course (with the second half faster than the first) or find a 1- to 2-mile loop.
Target Miles (or Mile Repeats). On a track (or flat 1-mile course), run a mile at your target race pace. Repeat two to four times. To recover, jog a quarter mile followed by two minutes of stretching or core work. This drill helps you find the breathing and stride rate necessary to meet your goal on race day.
Mid-Run Time Trial. During your long run for the week, run the middle portion at 90% effort as a test (or time trial). After your dynamic warm-up, run 1-2 miles at a very easy pace, then start your time trial (base the distance on the event for which you are training—see below), and finish with another easy 1-2 miles.
- 5K-10K - 1 Mile Time Trial
- Half Marathon - 5K Time Trial
- Full Marathon - 10K Time Trial
Pre-Fatigue Tempo Run. Prior to a 20-40 minute tempo run, complete a strength workout or other full-body, relatively low-impact workout to tire your legs (triathletes call this "brick training," since your legs may feel like a ton of bricks.) This will help you adapt to running on heavy legs without taxing your joints like a longer running session could. It is useful during pre-fatigue runs, especially in the first few minutes, to keep a slightly shorter stride with a quicker turnover. As your body adjusts, you will find your stride and finish in a normal rhythm. If you can maintain a constant jogging pace in heavy legs, think what you can do on race day with fresh legs.