During training, these intervals are also great times to check in with yourself, says Staples. For example, do you need to walk for a bit? Want to switch your playlist? Allowing yourself time to regroup can make the rest of your race or run seem a little less intimidating.
2. Break up your longer runs based on when you’ll refuel.
Not only do fuel breaks give you a hit of that sweet, sweet sugar to look forward to—hello, immediate energy boost—but they can also be a great way to break up your run.
Everyone’s fueling strategy is different, says Woods, but usually for a marathon, you’ll be eating something—like an energy gel or chew—every 30-45 minutes. (Same strategy applies for any long runs that are longer than an hour or so, whether you are racing or not.)
So if you’re planning on running for an hour and 45 minutes (whether racing or not), and you usually refuel every half hour, you’ll know you’ll have three breaks coming your way during your run to break that monotony. Take that time to check in with yourself and your pace, whether that means looking at your watch and taking stock of where you’re at, or simply letting yourself take a walking break to regroup.
“It helps tremendously to break up the repetitive motion—and you do get that sugar rush that helps you pick up the pace again,” Staples says.
3. During races, water stations make great mini finish lines.
If you can tell yourself, “I just need to make it to the next water stop, then I can take a break,” it can feel a lot more doable than trying to slog through straight to the end. I can say that from my half-marathon experiences: When I stay glued to my watch to monitor how I’m doing, I can get pretty down on myself if I feel like I won’t meet my time goal. But when I use aid stations as my markers, I can focus on getting through small, doable chunks of the race. Once I reach them, I feel motivated by the promise of that quenching hydration and a quick walk break—and feel notably recharged and ready to pick up the pace again.
Woods suggests this when runners are having a tough time getting through a race, because aid stations typically show up frequently enough that you can plan and push yourself from one to the next. (Check your race information beforehand for information on how many aid stations there will be, and when they’ll show up, so you won’t be surprised day-of.)
Use this hydration strategy to break up your weekend runs, too. If there are water fountains along your route on the trail, use those as your “aid stations” and stop to check in with yourself and hydrate at each one. If your route involves running a few times around the same loop, stash your water bottle at the start and use that as your marker each time you come back around. Pat yourself on the back—you’ve just created your own recurring aid station.
4. Split your run up into chunks based on pace so you can start slow and finish strong.
Striving for a specific time? Easing into your race or run and picking up the pace later can make it seem less daunting: You avoid burning out in the beginning, so you can finish strong. Woods suggests trying the 10/10/10 approach in a marathon specifically. “Run the first 10 miles a little bit slower than your goal pace, run the middle [10 miles] at goal pace, then race the last 10K.”
You can apply the same strategy to a shorter run by breaking it up into thirds or quarters, depending on what feels right for you. For a half marathon, for example, you could run the first 5 miles slower than your goal pace, the middle 5 at your goal pace, and then race the last 5k. If you simply want to beat your best time on a weekend run, for instance—say, your 3-mile neighborhood loop—try running the first one slowly, the middle one at your goal pace, and then really pushing for the last mile.
By the time you get into the homestretch, your muscles will be primed to take on the extra work—with the added mental bonus of seeing that finish line (or, OK, your car) beckoning to you.