Three Tips to Improve Your Finishing Kick
It’s the final 400 meters in the biggest race of the year. You can see the finish line ahead and the clock counting away the seconds. Your personal best time is within reach, but you’ll need to dig deep, ignore the searing pain in your quadriceps, and commit to one last surge. Your arms feel numb and heavy as you gulp for air in rapid breaths. The clock will not slow down. Will you?
At first glance, you might think you need superhuman courage to mount a strong finishing kick when faced with these painful barriers. But how a runner reacts in moments like these has more to do with experience than with courage.
The more familiar you become with the sensations of extreme exertion that come in the final parts of a race, the less scary they become. You must practice this feeling well before race day if you are going to perform at your highest level when it matters most.
Here are three tips to help you develop a winning kick:
1. Select a specific distance: The type of exertion it takes to run the last 200 meters of an 800-meter race is very different than the last mile of a marathon. Select a specific race and the length of the kick you are trying to develop.
2. Simulate the finish: You do not need to run the entire race distance to simulate what it will feel like during the finishing kick. Run a shorter distance at a faster pace to simulate the fatigue you will have when it is time to kick. Then, focus on running hard to the end. For an 800-meter race, this might mean running an all-out 400 meters and then pushing through the last 200. To practice the last mile of a 10K, run 3 miles at 20 seconds per mile faster than your 10K pace, followed by a hard mile.
3. Reflect and repeat: While the memory of the workout is fresh, reflect on your finishing effort. What did it feel like? How long did it take to recover? What did you learn about yourself and what you can handle? Could you go even harder next time? If time allows before your big race, schedule two or three of these sessions to really improve your performance.
Here is a real example of the above tips:
Olympian Kara Goucher’s coach wanted her to practice the pace and exertion it will take to contend over the last four miles in the Olympic Marathon next month in London. Last week, at the U.S. Half Marathon Championships in Duluth, Minnesota, Kara ran the first 9 miles at a quick pace but waited until the 9-mile mark to really push hard. Her 2 miles, from 9 to 11, averaged 5:15 per mile and she ran her last 2 miles with an average 5:08. Her simulated finish gave her confidence in her ability to compete in the last stages of the race. Her reflection? She can go even harder!
Consider this new scenario, once you’ve practiced your finishing kick:
There are 200 meters to go now as the relentless clock continues to count down the time between you and that new PR. But you are equally relentless; you have been here before. You have practiced for this moment. You are not afraid. You burst across the line and stumble around on wobbly legs. The new PR feels great but knowing you had the courage and strength to finish that fast feels even better.
What innovations and improvements to your training have helped you reach a new PR?
—Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano, Running Reporters
Running the Edge co-authors Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano became instant friends while running together at the University of Colorado. After college, Adam went on to have a very successful professional career that garnered eight national championships and an Olympic berth; Tim became a psychology teacher and high school coach in three different countries. They write about their passion for running on their blog, Run The Edge and on Facebook.