How does mental fatigue affect our running and what can we do about it?
by on Wednesday, October 2, 2013  (3 comments)

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Mental fatigue matters

I'm sure many of us have been there and know intuitively that mental fatigue can affect our running. I know I've experienced those rough runs where I just feel physically drained after a day of work that required a lot of concentration or a long study session when I was in school.

Well, now we see a study that backs this up. The interesting thing about this study is that it appears we perceive more physical fatigue, even though when bypassing the brain the body is able to perform just as well.

It's interesting to see the idea of training the brain to handle mental fatigue. Why? Because, about 2 weeks ago, I was reading about a protocol to do just that. Basically, you perform a task that fatigues your brain, then you go out for a run.

I can't help but wonder if this is one of the next new frontiers in training for endurance athletes. It is a very interesting idea. Fortunately, if you want to get ahead of the curve, I think there are ways we can do that without waiting for this new protocol to come out. Do you have some mentally challenging tasks you have to get done this weekend? Try doing some of them before your long run. Tough day at work? Maybe a run after work would be good not just to decompress but also to work on your ability to run through mental fatigue. I know I like my runs during my lunch break at work just to break up the work day. Maybe, in addition, I'm giving myself some extra training that I had only thought about in passing before.

Just a thought. What do you think?

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3 comments
Ed

Mental fatigue plays a huge roll for me. I just had a very tough two weeks at work with the first week enduring a head and chest cold as well. I just couldn't get out of bed in the mornings (would have been 3:00 AM). I do not know how I can work on this as my only time I can run is in the very dark AM. However, it sure is worth a thought.

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JCWrs

I've always actively avoided situations where I transition directly from a mentally intense task to running. In fact, if I have my way, I prefer to eat and then do little to nothing for an hour and a half or so before I go run. Obviously, this is not always possible, but this would explain why I prefer to do that. All of anecdotal evidence suggests this is true. For much of this year I've been in a high-stress job working for a demanding boss and only getting in 25-30 miles per week. Recently I got moved to a much slower paced job with a hands off boss and I'm getting 50+ miles per week in all of a sudden.

As for getting used to it, when I was in school I always noticed coming off of summer workouts and starting classes again. My performance would drop off for a bit until I got used to things and everything shifted back to normal. This study seems to confirm what has always held true for me. It is interesting to see it spelled out and a coach would be a fool not to factor it in to training.

Good stuff!

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Ryan
JCWrs: I've always actively avoided situations where I transition directly from a mentally intense task to running. In fact, if I have my way, I prefer to eat and then do little to nothing for an hour and a half or so before I go run. Obviously, this is not always possible, but this would explain why I prefer to do that. All of anecdotal evidence suggests this is true. For much of this year I've been in a high-stress job working for a demanding boss and only getting in 25-30 miles per week. Recently I got moved to a much slower paced job with a hands off boss and I'm getting 50+ miles per week in all of a sudden.



No doubt. I'd love to sit back and relax for a while before I head out for a run. I just feel better if I can. That said, I think there is something to the idea of running while mentally fatigued as a training stimulus.

JCWrs: As for getting used to it, when I was in school I always noticed coming off of summer workouts and starting classes again. My performance would drop off for a bit until I got used to things and everything shifted back to normal. This study seems to confirm what has always held true for me. It is interesting to see it spelled out and a coach would be a fool not to factor it in to training.



I think most of us who ran in school have experienced this and I suspect that it's at least partly the training effect we see discussed. We have a relaxed summer, things go well. We then suffer the mental fatigue of getting back into the flow of classes and that wears on us for a week or two before our bodies adjust to that and we can come back stronger.

All of this is very interesting to me. As you mentioned, I think a coach would be a fool to not factor that into training. Not just in terms of tempering expectations and maybe dialing back workouts when things are extra stressful at work, school or home but also in terms of selectively training through mental fatigue to build up some resistance to that fatigue.

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