Help! I Can’t Finish Races without Walking

Here’s an intersting inquiry from a runner with 10 years running experience and 4 marathons (improved on each).

I have problems finishing races. I tend to give up and walk a lot in the last few miles, no matter what distance of a race that I am doing?! I am always trained, but I think that my mind won’t allow me to finish well.

Well since it happens in all your races there are several possibilities. Without a complete background it might be hard to pinpoint.

One – your training may not be tailored to the distances you want to race – you cannot train the same for a half marathon and run a 5k fast. So even a marathoner trying to blast a 5k unprepared for that pace – will succumb to great fatigue. It is possible to be completely out of gas and need to slow to a jog or give in and walk. Merely because you are “trained” doesn’t mean you have properly prepared for a given race. Of course, each race can have unique reasons for slowing to a walk – most certainly in the marathons it’s an endurance as well as pacing issue and could be nutrition/hydration.

Two – your pacing is off for all the races because you do not train at the correct paces. The key is to learn goal pacing. When in doubt, simply do time trials to be able to estimate what a goal pace should be for a given distance. Go here to calculate some paces for yourself.

Three – as you eluded to, it could be mental toughness is lacking. This is an entire area to work on. But I can tell you is that if you don’t consistently practice being mentally tough it will not magically show up on race day. You can work on your self-talk. (What do you tell yourself as you have the urge to stop and walk for instance?) You can do practice workouts that are very challenging to put yourself in a position to practice techniques to enhance your mental toughness. (Image certain things, use cue words, use affirmations, dissociate from the discomfort, associate or tune in to your body – are all examples.)

I know this is somewhat general but these are the themes that most likely contribute to your problem. Only by doing things in practice can you really begin to hone in on what is bothering you in races.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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3 Responses to Help! I Can’t Finish Races without Walking

  1. James Kahler says:

    Another thought to consider is to totally reframe your goal for the chosen event. Perhaps you reframe the goal to take time out of the equation and make the goal to run every step, or perhaps you reframe it as, “I just want to have a great time and I’ll consider this a long, catered training run”. With that goal in mind, get comfortable with the idea that you are going to go out really slow. Obnoxiously slow. With that approach, one can reduce the importance of many of the variables such as hydration, carb loading and caloric intake, exacting pacing, toughness, etc. and in the process build confidence. The runner might be a little more aggressive with the goal to say to him/herself, “First 20, I’m just going to have fun and set no expectations. At 20, if I’m feeling good, I’ll push myself.” That approach itself where negative splits come from. In fact with this approach, it is entirely possible to schedule an early and a late season marathon and to treat the former as a last long training run/confidence builder.

    I’ve personally used these techniques over the last couple years and have not completed 4 marathons, a 50k and two 50 milers in 3 yrs with 2 marathons and a 50 miler left to go this fall. All I can say is that I’ve never found myself having more fun running than I do now. Oh, and one last goal of mine was to get to where I could have zero stress going into a marathon. Early on, I would lose sleep, have stomach problems, and if the race didn’t go as I hoped, I felt crushed, all of which took a toll personally and at home. My new approach has solved the stress issue as well.

  2. James Kahler says:

    By “obnoxiously slow” I mean something probably like 30-45 seconds slower than what you might think of as “goal pace”. The key, though, is that it should feel really, really easy. It should feel too slow. But by running at least one race with that approach, you can set a great baseline for yourself and build confidence. For example, “OK, now I know I’ve trained for what, in theory, should be a 4 hour marathon and I was able to run 4:15 confidently (which is about 30 sec/mile slower). I was able to run every step and now I know how I felt. I know I can go a little harder next time, so perhaps on the same training paces, I’ll target 4:07, or if I can satisfactorily improve my training paces, I’ll go for the 4:00.”

  3. Dean Hebert says:

    Great suggestions coach!

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