Top Ten Ways to Finish Your Races Strongly
By Rick Morris
There’s just no way of getting around it. The final portions of any distance running race from 800 meters to ultra marathons are going to be tough. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If competing as a distance runner were easy, what would be the point. While those final miles are always going to be tough, they don’t need to be slow or weak. Here are our top ten ways to finish your races strongly.
Get a Kick
There comes a point in every race where it’s just time to GO. In an 800 meter race it’s the final 300 meters. For 5K runners it’s the last 800 meters. For a marathon runner it’s the final mile or two. When you hit GO time you need to be able to kick it up into a new gear. That all important finishing kick isn’t something that your born with, you need to develop it. Two good ways to build your finishing kick are running 100 meter sprints or strides and including a fast finishing kick to the end of each workout or training run.
To finish your races strongly you need a bit of toughness. The final miles of your races are tough so it just makes sense that you need to get physically and mentally tough to finish strongly. Practice toughness training on a weekly basis. Include some very hard interval training workouts and goal pace long runs to your weekly training schedule. The harder workouts improve both your mental and physical toughness.
Increase Your Strength and Power
Stronger muscles are tougher muscles. At the end of your distance races you need to call on already exhausted muscles to work even harder. If you improve your strength your muscles will be up to the challenge. Include running specific strength training on a consistent basis.
If you want to finish your races strongly consider running some hills. Do you want to combine running specific strength training with your running workouts for a time saving training session? You can do that with hill running. Both uphill and downhill running will not only improve your running strength but will also raise your lactate threshold, improve your vVO2 max, increase your running economy and make you a tougher runner. It will help you finish your races strongly.
Practice Negative Splits
One of the more popular distance running strategies is negative splits or running the second half of the race slightly faster than the first. If you can successfully complete this negative split strategy you will obviously be finishing strong. The problem is that running negative splits properly isn’t easy. You need to practice it. Include negative split training in your weekly routine and you will perfect your negative split skills.
Practice Positive Splits
Note above that I said you need to run negative splits properly. That is the trick to finishing strong. But there is much more to properly running negative splits than simply running the second half of your race faster than the first. It would be very easy to just slow down in the first half and run the second half at your normal pace. You would be running negative splits, but not proper negative splits. You need to be able to run a quality pace in the first half of your race and still increase your pace in the second half. How do you learn to do that? By practicing positive splits or running very fast in the first half of your training workout and hanging on in the last half.
Use Your Noodle
Finishing your race at a strong pace isn’t just a physical test it’s also a mental one. You need to run smart. Manage your race properly. It’s very easy to run at too fast a pace in the early miles when you feel strong. Plan your pace ahead of time and try to stick to your plan early in the race. There will be plenty of time later in the race to adjust your pace to meet both race conditions and your personal physical condition.
Warm Up Properly
Your muscles need a bit of time to get themselves properly lubricated and up to optimal operating temperature and condition. If you start a race without a proper warm up you could waste energy and increase your levels of fatigue to excessive levels early in your race. Make sure you complete the warm up that is most appropriate for your specific race to avoid excessive early fatigue that could cause problems later in your race.
Expand Your Mind
Fatigue is only partly physical. There is also a large mental component to distance running fatigue. Your central nervous system (CNS) plays a role in running fatigue. When your body systems become out of balance your CNS sometimes steps in to try to slow you down, which feels like fatigue. You can overcome the influence of your CNS by including hard and long training runs two to three times per week. You can also overcome it by playing mental games such as visualization to trick your CNS into thinking everything is OK. Practice your mental skills during every hard training run and you will be ready to finish every race at a strong pace.
It’s very common for a distance runner’s stride to break down when they become fatigued. The most common symptom of a running stride breakdown is over striding. Be sure to maintain a compact, light, fluid stride of around 90 full strides or 180 steps per minute. That quick stride rate combined with a smooth, fluid forward motion will maintain a strong pace to the end.