Runners, put yourself in a boot-camp-class scenario: The instructor introduces the next exercise, burpees (ugh) and asks you to “give it all you’ve got.” In an ideal world, you’d go rep after rep, as fast as you can, until the instructor yells "time," right? In real life, though, you’ll likely do a few reps, take a breather, and repeat the cycle. After all, you have no idea how long this is going to last (the round could be for another 10 seconds, or for the next five minutes), and you want to conserve some energy for the end. However, if that instructor had told you to do burpees for two minutes only, maybe you'd have stuck with it from start to finish.
This is the concept researchers looked at in a study published in The Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research. For the study, 22 runners (11 male, 11 female) completed two self-paced runs under two conditions: one with an unknown endpoint, and one with a knowledge of the finish line. Surprise: The subjects ran faster when the endpoint was known, but the participants judged the two runs as equally difficult. Although this study was self-paced, researchers note that because it was performed on a treadmill, changing pace required pressing a button, which made participants more conscious of their choice to speed up or slow down.
Consider “teleoanticipation” your vocab word of the day; it means the body will regulate and signal to itself how to adjust the pace of exercise, in hopes of conserving enough energy to finish. When the endpoint is unknown, you’ll slow down and save your resources to prevent fatigue.