What’s Happening!?

“What’s my pace?” “How am I feeling?”

Yes, we do, consciously or unconsciously, continuously ask questions like these during training and racing. In fact, these questions are very influential, and many of us already use them to guide the optimizing of our endurance performance.

Say that our question is “How fast am I running?” And its answer comes from monitoring our pace. On this web site, the answer will be called a “sign” like: “Six miles in 34 minutes.”. This sign can be used for evaluating if running or cycling at this pace results in a match, or mismatch, with the pre-planned pace split like: “Does my time [at six miles in this marathon] match my [pre-planned] time split of 35 minutes? No, too fast ”

Say, if another of our questions is “How tired am I?” Its answer comes from monitoring a perception; on this web site, the answer is will be called a “symptom”.

These signs and  symptom will be used for the “evaluations” of strategic pre-planned pace, tiredness, etc. A match or mismatch the  tiredness intensity for the marathon strategic plan, for example, at the 18 mile mark, like: “I’m very tired’. An evaluation then might be like: “Just as planned.”

And the resulting “adjustments” could be like: “Keep on trucking”.

This article will discuss how to  consciously notice signs and symptoms. Also four BIG groups of Questions are suggested as important aids to use during racing. More significantly they must be used throughout training for racing or even just to stay fit.

Signs and Symptoms

First, let’s pay attention to our use of signs and symptoms because they largely determine our endurance performance. Signs and symptoms are largely shaped by our perceptions. For running and cycling, signs are primarily perceptions of motion and also of coordination and balance. Thus, motion is partly an internal perception that can be externally validated, for example, by looking at your wristwatch. However, symptoms are solely perceptions reflecting our internal states.

On this web site, perceptions arise from sensory input using mechanisms that are mostly beneath consciousness and can be expressed consciously as percepts. And percepts are not emotions, but they might be noticed and can evoke an emotional response. Furthermore, perceptions are happening all the time, and I am grateful that most of my feelings are not noticed.

When signs and symptoms are noticed, their intensity can be rated. For self-aware athletes, a question about pace can be graded in a quasi-quantitative answer. For example, running speed might be rated like: “A bit slow” or “Somewhat fast”.

We perceive signs and symptoms multidimensionally (Kinsman & Weiser, 1976). So, when I scan my body, I notice pain, tiredness, shortness of breath, drive [to keep going], and aversion [wanting to back off or maybe even stop].

Second, a key presumption is that athletes use a form of private talk concerning these signs and symptoms. Their processing of these consists of, more-or-less, a self-dialog of questions and answers that will occur throughout an event, be it a training session, time trial, or, a race. Many athletes have experienced [1] that this on-going dialogue allowed a sense of control within unpredictable unfolding of the event itself. As an example, during the development of a set of symptom item clusters for prolonged performance (Kinsman et al., 1974; Weiser et al., 1973), each individual item was based upon an answer to the question, “At end of a long event, what are you aware of?”

Big Questions

When I recalled my experiences as a distance runner, I found that these questions were very valuable and were associated with self-regulation before and during prolonged performance. For ease of discussion, I will crudely divide them into four groups and refer to them as the Big Questions.

1. One group of the Big Questions was action-oriented and, as a set, each one was similar to: “What am I doing?” The most important of the ‘doing’ questions was in the speed domain: “What is my pace?” or “How much effort am I putting into this exercise”?.  Their answers seem to estimate components of the ‘drive’ toward achieving the performance objective for the event. For self-aware performers, these are questions invoke a quasi-quantitative answer. For example, one manner of answering the pace question might be a scaling like: “Very slow”, “A bit slow”, “Good enough”, “Somewhat fast”, or “Very fast”. The answer to this doing-oriented pacing questions correspond to  “signs”.

Besides the exercise intensity dialogue,  there were other ‘doing’ questions with answers that provide signs about performance: “How well coordinated am I”?, or “How relaxed am I?” or “How easy is it, going up this steep hill?” or “How psyched am I to do my best?”. Notice that the answers to all these action-oriented ‘doing’ questions are also forms of assessment, perhaps using ratings or yes/no answers, about the performing an event and provided data for mental processing.

2. Another group of Big Questions was awareness-oriented and each one was similar to: “How am I feeling?” The answers to these ‘feeling’ questions can be thought as a ‘drag’ upon one’s ability to perform. And they provide more data for mental processing. With hindsight, These answers are an acknowledgement of mental representations (Edelman, 1992). These representations were based upon on-going sensations, perceptions, concepts, and categories. These subjective representations clarify the term “feeling” used during this discussion about performance.  The answer to this awareness-oriented questions correspond to “symptoms”.

These subjective representations may be sunconscious or conscious depending on the state of awareness that is being used by the athlete. Four common examples of  these symptom representations are symbolized by the words “fatigue”, “pain”, and “muscle soreness”, or a phrase like “shortness of breath”.

3. While based on the data from the athlete’ssigns and symptoms, a third group of Big Questions are now evaluation-orientated and each one was similar to: “How well am I performing?“ These questions concern matching the symptoms and signs to those anticipated at that point in the event or session. Some examples are: “Is this pace harder or easier than planned (at this point during the event)?“ or “Is this pain more or less than anticipated?” The answers to these evaluation-based questions can define the strategy mismatches at any time during a segment and provided valuable “evaluations” for use with the next group of questions.

4. The fourth group of Big Questions are results-oriented decision making questions similar to: “Is it better to change, and if yes, how?”. These questions risk revising the event actions away from the preplanned strategy and taking the consequences of these decisions. Task aversion


Some decisions concern the degree of pace mismatch, and an example decision could be: “Maintain this pace” by using self-talk to keep on increasing effort. A different decision in rough mountainous terrain might be: “Slow down for a while” by decreasing effort going up the next hill.  Several consequences might be: “Not a bit of energy left” or “Have some energy to burn!”. Concurrently a decision may be concerned with the degree of mismatch for pain tolerance and, using the mental strategy tactics, the decision could be: “Just acknowledge this pain” by increasing self-talk accepting the discomfort from increased pain. Another related decision might be: “Reduce getting more and more hot” by using self-talk about choosing to reduce the pace and prevent physical damage from overload. Some of these consequences might be: “I’m hanging in there” or “Saved myself from heatstroke”. The answers to these results-based questions can define the event “adjustments” made at any time during a segment.


My prior experience with endurance performance recalled two factual questions, “What are I doing?” and “How are I feeling?” plus two integrating questions,  “How well am I performing?” and “Is it better to change, and if yes, how?”. Drag, Drive, Evaluation, Adjustment. These questions assist the implementation of the strategy plan by being self assessment tools and evaluation/decision making tools. Their use is to monitor and self-regulate performance.

[1] The author, Phil Weiser, has been a national class distance runner. His personal records for running a mile is 4 minutes 15 seconds, for 15 km is 48 minutes 23 seconds, and for a marathon is 2 hours 29 minutes; he also has run 11.2 miles in one hour.

[2] Some additional self-talk questions:
“Am I on pace?”,
“How much effort am I putting into running?”,
“How easy [hard] is it going up this hill?”,
“How am I handling tiredness and pain”,
“How psyched am I to do my best?”,
“Am I running as relaxed as possible?”,
“Better to maintain this pace or slow down?”,
“Shall I just quit this race?”,
“Is this pace harder or easier than planned (at this point during the event)?”,
“Is this pain more or less than anticipated?”,
“Time to use [the next coping strategy] to handle this pain?”

(Return to Dealing with Discomfort)

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