Runners rarely get away with starting their races full out and maintaining that pace to the finish. The longer the race, the more this rule becomes absolute, especially when we enter the realm of marathons and ultras. But new research on a survival mechanism located in our brain – and a biological process called “teleoanticipation” – shows some interesting things about how we should pace ourselves during long efforts. If used properly, it should allow us to delay race fatigue and, therefore, knock seconds or even minutes off our finishing times.
Here’s how it works:
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Teleoanticipation focuses on the finishing point of our race and works backwards to where we are presently, making continuous on-the spot calculations about whether we can maintain our pace to the finish or not. This computer-like mechanism – our brain’s cerebral motor cortex (CMT) – recalculates the maximum pace we can sustain without going over the edge and harming ourselves, sending messages to our brain to slow down if we’re going too fast. This process is called teleoanticipation.
So how can we use teleoanticipation to postpone fatigue during races, pace ourselves better and reduce our times? Exercise scientists believe that the teleoanticipation mechanism in our cmt is calibrated based on our most recent races and high-intensity workouts. Our brain appears to remember our previous racing or training pace so we tend to maintain a pace close to that in subsequent races.
The good news for runners is we can reprogram the cmt using teleoanticipation by doing more higher intensity workouts such as race simulations, intervals, fartlek workouts and shorter, faster races. The faster pace reprograms the teleoanticipatory centre in our brain and resets a higher cruising speed for future races.
A recent study from New Zealand, published in the Journal of Psychology, also suggested running by “feel” can trick the teleoanticipation process to help us run faster. The study tested three groups all doing the same workout: 5 x 1,000m. The rest intervals varied among the three groups: Group A rested until their heart rate dropped back into the 130s; Group B rested for the exact amount of time it took to run the interval; and Group C rested until they felt like they were ready to go again, at the prescribed 90-per-cent effort. The results showed that Groups B and C ran the intervals consistently at the assigned pace, while Group A slowed down and didn’t recover enough. Furthermore, Group C – the runners who rested until they felt they were ready, without looking at time or heart rate – actually took less recovery time than the Group B runners. So Group C received the best training benefit.
Another lesson we have learned from teleoanticipation is that our CMT prefers us to run our races evenly paced for the entire distance because we are less likely to hit the “red zone,” where we are flirting with crossing the line into an anaerobic state. Obviously, we are all taught to start our long distance races at a pace that we can maintain all the way to the finish. It’s a key part of sound pace judgement. Unfortunately, even-paced racing is extraordinarily difficult for most runners – especially beginners – but the good news is that our pace judgement improves with every race, largely as a result of teleoanticipation.
In order to improve your chance at hitting the fastest and most efficient pace at your next race, keep these three points in mind for your training: 1. Determine what your goal pace should be and practice maintaining it for long periods of time. 2. Do higher-intensity workouts frequently in your training program to trick your mind into getting comfortable at a faster speed. 3. Incorporate some workouts where you go by feel instead of time or distance on the recovery.
– Roy Stevenson