Thursday, October 6, 2016

Anticipation Fatigue: It's A Thing.

This Tuesday's track session was a not-insignificant 2 mile warm-up + drills/dynamic stretches, 10 x 1K / 200m jog, 2 mile cool down. The target for the 1K's was pace was 4:34 (7:21 pace), just a bit slower than I ran my 10K in a few weeks back.

This is what Kezar Stadium looks like at 4pm. By 6pm there are approximately 700 people on it.

Something I've noticed in both long, hard workouts as well as races is this phenomenon I've started calling "anticipation fatigue." With anticipation fatigue, you are preparing to do something sort of frighteningly hard like run a scary pace for longer than you feel confident about, or do a freaking shit-tonne of hard intervals, or something of that nature. And regardless of how easy or hard this feat *actually* is, the thought of it kind of terrifies you, and for some nonzero portion of it, you are absolutely 100% sure it's going to end up being a PW or otherwise completely awful.

Interestingly, I don't think I would have ever noticed this phenomenon except that I've written so, so many race reports that start with me thinking, "This is impossible, I feel so awful, what if I can't even finish," and then by halfway or two thirds through, thinking, "THIS IS AWESOME AND I AM AWESOME AND PHBBBBTTT THIS ISN'T EVEN HARD." And the only conclusion I can arrive at is that a not-insigifnicant part of the perceived effort involved with distance running is mental, and when our confidence is not in the stratosphere, it is possible to mistake mental exertion (race tactics, managing pace, balancing how you feel now with how you think you might feel x miles from now) for physical exertion.

(I remember experiencing a version of this at Race to the End of Summer, my first all-out race in quite some time. In mile 2-3ish, I found myself thinking, "Man, this is hard." But when I really pushed myself to think about it--"But is it actually, physically that bad now?"--I realized that "" It was just the mental work of maintaining the pace and managing scary thoughts about how many minutes were left. To be honest, the actual physical discomfort & pain didn't kick in until the last mile or so.)

Looking at Tuesday's track workout on paper beforehand, my reaction was pretty much, "Well this is going to be balls," because 1) in the past when I've done "K" track workouts I've made the mistake of thinking a kilometer is super short (probably because 5Ks are "short" and 1K is only 20% of that) and then partway through realizing that oops, no, a K is actually pretty significant in terms of speed work, and 2) I ran 4 x 1600m on the treadmill at the same pace a week ago, which was also balls, and while 1000m is significantly shorter than 1600m, 10 is MORE THAN DOUBLE 4. #mathmajor.

Add to this the fact that I was still not sure how my battered knee would respond to speed work on the track, and yeah, I was more than a little nervous about this 11.5 mile workout. Like nausea-and-cold-sweat nervous.


The first intervals did not feel good. My legs felt tired and just generally non-responsive. There was a lot of cold sweat and I feel like my heart rate was probably a lot higher than necessary, which of course made everything feel harder than it should have. Two intervals in and "EIGHT MORE OF THESE ARE YOU SERIOUS????"

Generally at the track I run by feel and easily beat the targets without working too hard but this time I was 100% going out of my way to run exactly the pace prescribed and no faster. Mentally I kept trying to tell myself, "7:21 isn't even fast. 7:21 isn't even fast. 7:21 isn't even fast," but my legs didn't care. It wasn't that I felt I was working that hard; it was just my legs being like "Yeah; don't wanna. #sorrynotsorry."

And then, as I found I actually was able to run K after K between 4:31 and 4:34 with no problem and no pain from my knee, something in my mind or body or both kind of flipped, and they really did start to feel not that fast and also not that hard. Like, I actually found myself zoning out & sometimes losing track of which interval I was even on. "Oh, this interval is over? I almost forgot we were running one!"

I finished all 11.5 miles feeling hungry and kind of low blood sugar but otherwise fine. Knee pain was maybe .6 out of 10 -- I could feel that it wasn't 100% normal, but it was more just weird pressure from time to time, not really pain.

(And, definitely worse running in the "correct" counter-clockwise direction. Kezar is generally too busy for fast intervals in lane 1 in the "wrong" direction to feel safe, but I did my warm-up & cool down in the clockwise direction, which was definitely a little easier on the knee.)

Am I crazy? Does anyone else get "anticipation fatigue" early in a race or hard workout and then end up crushing it? please say yes


  1. I definitely get anticipation fatigue. And the first interval usually sucks and doesn't help with it. But I've found that more often than not, I do the workout just fine.

    I think it's good to have a little fear before a workout because if you don't, maybe you aren't challenging yourself enough.

    I still think 10x1000k sounds sooooo exhausting! I think I've done 8 before, but usually it's more like 5 reps.

  2. Oh, anticipation fatigue is totally a thing. I totally get pre-track nerves sometimes. Like, nausea. And track workouts happen every week. You'd think my body would get with the programme...

  3. It's totally a thing. I hear you. I could run a million miles without any hesitation (not really, but you know...), yet if I see a track workout coming up I get into a shitty self-defeating "I wonder if I'm in shape to do this workout?!" mentality, even when the workout is short reps broken up by not-insignificant rest periods. We humans (and runners) are so funny. I think the best thing I can do is to just get out of my head and assure myself that a) I won't die and b) I'm fine and c) yes, self, you can do this. (I obviously talk to myself a lot too on these endeavors).