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Tips for Surviving Fatigueland

Taking a stride is daunting. Every breath is labored. You’re running on empty.

Welcome to Fatigueland, population YOU! Spending time in Fatigueland isn’t much fun. But, there are a number of ways to make your stay a bit more manageable.

Managing fatigue is a huge part of becoming a better runner. Regardless of the distance you’re training for, you’re going to have to deal with fatigue at some point. I’ve got a few tricks that should make it easier for you to deal!


I know. The idea of running FASTER when you’re dying at your current pace sounds a bit crazy. But, when you’re drowning in fatigue and on the verge of walking, sometimes crazy is required.

So, before you slow down, before you stop to walk, before you surrender, try picking it up a bit. When you run faster, your form changes. Running in a slightly different manner can shake things up.

Running at a faster pace may actually help you find a second wind. If you’re near the finish line, it may help carry you to a(nother) personal best.

The next time fatigue is making your life miserable, try running a tad faster. It may be exactly what you need. You might find that fatigue becomes less onerous.

Focus on your form

When you get fatigued, your biomechanics and form tend to degrade. Your arms might start swinging across the midline of your torso. Your knees might not rise as high as they once did.

When I find myself fighting fatigue, I try to consciously focus on my form. I consciously focus on making sure my arms are cocked at 90 degrees and propelling me forward. I consciously focus on taking light, quick strides. I try to spend as little time as possible in contact with the ground.

This conscious focus on form helps in a couple big ways. If I’m running on fumes, the last thing I want to do is run in a less economical manner. I need to preserve what little fuel I’ve got left. In a separate vein, focusing on form gives me something positive to focus on.

If I’m focusing on my form, it’s likely I’m giving less attention to those nagging, negative voices that tend to undermine. I’m not going to hear the voices telling me how hard this is, how tired I am, or how badly I want to stop.

Focus on your form and the fatigue will likely feel less pronounced. The insidious voices of doubt will likely be quieter as well.

Dial it back

While I’d recommend trying to run a bit faster first, I understand it might be difficult to do so. So, try the exact opposite. Dial things back a bit.

Don’t get discouraged. This doesn’t have to be a permanent slow down. Consider it a brief respite.

When you slow down, your heart rate decreases. Your breathing slows down. You relax a bit.

When you’re relaxed, fatigue dissipates. It’s bound to feel less pronounced. It won’t weigh as heavily on you.

Once you’ve taken a few breaths and gathered yourself, you can try to ramp things back up. It’s likely you’ll be able to resume the pace you were managing previously. Sometimes slowing down is what’s required to keep going.

Make things small

In the latter stages of a brutal session of 800-meter intervals, I was feeling wrecked. My lungs were heaving. My legs were awash in lactic acid.

And, I wasn’t done yet. I had to fight my way through two more lung-searing laps before I’d reach the finish line. Under normal circumstances, two laps was no big deal.

But, the latter stages of an interval workout is far from normal. It is in the last interval (or two) that you will enter not Fatigueland, but FatigueWORLD. It’s a dark place where fatigue occupies every fiber of your being.

As I approached the starting line, I knew I needed a strategy for knocking off this final interval. I was no longer tackling a simple two laps. I was being confronted with something that felt like a big project.

So, I made it smaller. As I darted from the starting line, I focused on the straight segment of the track. It was the only thing that mattered.

The straight segued into the curve. I locked in on the curve. Rinse and repeat.

I was no longer running two laps. I was just running 100 meters at a time. It was a much smaller, easier project to process.

When things start to feel BIG, make them smaller. It’s not a mile, it’s just one lap (four times). It’s not a lap, it’s just one hundred meters (four times).

Walk it off

Right around the time I hit mile 35 of my first (and likely only) 50-miler, I experienced complete physical collapse. My quads were shot. So was everything else.

My peripheral vision started to fade. Simply getting my feet to land where I wanted them to became a major challenge. I was a trainwreck.

I desperately wanted to continue running, but I truly couldn’t do it very effectively anymore. The last thing I wanted to do was walk. But, my eternal optimism was dwarfed by the stark reality I was facing.

So, I took a walk. Just like slowing down, I had no intention of walking forever. I would run again. It wasn’t a question of if, but when.

Every few minutes I’d try to run. It usually didn’t work very well. So, I’d walk again.

I wasn’t running, but I was still moving forward. I was making progress. The finish line was getting closer.

As bad as I felt, I clung to the idea that somehow I’d rally. Right around mile 45, it miraculously happened. It was probably the Mountain Dew I knocked back at the final aid station.

I managed to run almost all of the final five miles. I don’t think I could have managed this had I not taken a walk right around mile 35. So, if you can’t run faster or slower, simply take a walk.

A few minutes of walking may be the reset you need to actually resume running.

Uncage the rage

I had a coach who once told me I ran angry. He was right. I was typically pissed off, usually at the end of a race.

It was something that initially happened by accident. In the latter stages of an early season race, I was passed by someone right at the finish line. I threw my head back and yelled. I was pissed.

A wave of adrenaline washed over me. The fatigue dissipated. Suddenly, I had a little fuel in my tank.

I mulled this over as I was licking my wounds. Maybe I could use this anger (and the associated adrenaline) to my advantage next time. So, I did.

In the latter stages of my next race, I was neck and neck with another runner. I desperately wanted to lose him as the finish line approached. I was pissed that I couldn’t seem to pull away.

So, I pulled out my war cry and let the anger (and adrenaline) wash over me. A familiar jolt of energy came over me. The legs picked up and I managed to pull away.

I’m not saying you need to let out a war cry and get angry every time you’re feeling fatigued. But, sometimes a little well-placed anger (and adrenaline) at the end of a tough run can help you find that extra gear and abbreviate your stay in Fatigueland.


Want to hear more from Marathon Matt? Find out more about his coaching and running experience at www.marathonmatt.com!

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