Three Strategies to Offset Late-Race Fatigue

Whether you’re running a long-distance event or a 5K, late-race fatigue can affect your performance. The great news is there are three simple techniques you can use to power through to the finish line:

The Head-to-Toe Inventory

As we fatigue, the first thing to go by the wayside is our form. Tension builds in the hips and shoulders, and our strides tend to slow and lengthen. At every kilometre, perform the head-to-toe inventory, checking in on and adjusting your form: Relax your shoulders, swing your arms like a pendulum (instead of high and tight, like chicken wings), relax your hands, keep your hips under your shoulders, and try to take quick steps. Staying mindful of your form will allow you to run stronger while using less energy.

Regulate Your Breath

This is such an important skill that coach Budd Coates dedicated an entire book to it (Running on Air, a must-read). Breathing rates can go off the charts in the late stages of a race as you push harder, which contributes to fatigue.

What Coates found through research is that the foot you land on while exhaling receives the most impact force. Most people fall into an even cadence—they inhale over two steps, and exhale over two steps (or inhale three steps, exhale three steps)—which means they’re always exhaling on the same side.

Coates teaches runners a technique called rhythmic breathing to more evenly distribute those exhales. He has runners inhale for three strides and exhale for two during easy to moderate efforts, and inhale for two strides and exhale for one during moderate to hard efforts.

Technically this is something you want to do from the start and not just in the final kilometres, but it’s a skill you may forget to practice when you’re focused on pushing hard.

Detach and Push

I teach my runners early in the race to tune into their bodies and tune out any outside distractions like music or to-do lists. This is important because when the legs are fresh and there is too much stimulation, we get caught up in the flow and run too hard, too soon. Tuning in early on teaches you how to gauge your pace based on what is going on inside your body and sets you up for a strong finish. As you progress through the last quarter of the race when your body is on autopilot, it can be highly beneficial to tune out by listening to your power song, dedicating a mile to someone you love, or focusing on catching a person ahead of you. By placing your focus on external forces, it distracts the voices inside your head telling you, “It’s hard, slow down,” and allows you to push through the discomfort of racing.

Finishing strong is like winning the race. It fuels your confidence, builds your racing skills, and propels your performance. The key is to pace yourself wisely early on and empower yourself with these strategies to push through the hard bits.

Subscribe to Runner's World


Related Articles