Ask 220: End-of-run blues

Q. My regular run route ends with an unavoidable 2km alongside a busy road. It’s congested and polluted, and often puts me off running entirely. As I can’t take a different route, what psychological tips do you have for beating this end-of-run blues?

A.

By coincidence, I was just asking myself a similar question, having recently run into heavy day-tripper traffic at the end of a run along the seafront! It reduced my pace by about a minute per mile, so I sympathise.

It did get me thinking though: while out running with the great 2:07hr marathon runner Rob De Castella, he told me he always starts and finishes any training run with a seven-minute mile. It was always part of his workout – and this is from a runner who can average under five minutes per mile for 26 miles.

A simple answer is to programme in an easy opener and likewise a comfortable end to any run. Similarly, Paula Radcliffe uses the same sort of principle for a lot of her training runs – she warms up and cools down with nothing more than a jog.

Given that there’s no way around the problem, you have to plan in that extra distance for every run. There’s a lot written about the lack of benefit from junk mileage, but I believe a lot of training should be just that – easy and slow. You may have seen the 80/20 principle, which tells you to run 80% of your weekly training at an easy/slow pace and just 20% at a fast, threshold-type speed. This isn’t a million miles away from De Castella and Radcliffe’s training regime.

There’s also a lot to be said for ditching your GPS. Again, a recent run got us chatting about the importance of using a watch, but also how counterproductive they can be. It used to be that every run resulted in us saying ‘six-minute’ miles, although now the watch clearly tells us we probably weren’t always accurate! Learning easy and fast paces without the watch and gauging effort is vital to becoming a better runner.

Conversely, the watch can be useful in your case as you can really run that ‘last’ mile as hard as you possibly can, always finishing on a high before the inevitable jog back and taking it easy (which you’ll be grateful for, despite the drab scenery).

If all else fails, think of the Kenyans, the greatest distance runners around. During the summer they base themselves in Teddington, close to a very busy high street. As a result, every single run starts and finishes with a slow jog as they meander past Tesco, dodging in and out of shoppers. I know because I’ve run with them occasionally, thinking ‘this is easy’ – only to see them fly away into the distance once the traffic clears!

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