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Gotta Run: Tips for improving your finishing kick

Two weeks ago, I talked about how the long run can improve the quality of your running and racing. With this column, I’ll address another way to experience a faster race. Nothing is better than for a runner to sprint toward the finish line and hold his/her pace or even pass a few runners who are just ahead. Many age group places and occasionally an overall win will come down to the sprint over the last 100 yards. Some people think that the fast sprinter might have the advantage, and although this is true to a point, there are some ways to deliver your best finish by proper training. Here are a few training tips to add to your workouts.

The runner needs to increase his aerobic strength. Focus some of your harder training on tempo runs, particularly progressive runs. Progressive runs teach the runner how to run fastest at the end. For many people, going out too hard in races kills their finishing speed. There are two rules of thought on going out too hard. One thought is that if you go out too hard, you won’t have enough left to finish strong. The second thought is that you can’t get faster overall unless you push the pace past the comfort zone from the start. I subscribed to the second thought and it paid off.

At my very best and most competitive, I was the guy who really pushed the pace off the starting line. My fastest first miles were between 4:50 and 5:12. My intent was to hammer the first mile, push the pace on the second mile and then survive the third mile. My training focused in two areas. Building speed by running 400s (one lap on a track) and 800s (two laps on a track) was the standard part of this.

The non-standard part of my training was the use of a progressive run. Few runners today use the progressive run in their training. Here is what I did, and I know it will work for you. I would do my warm-up by running a mile or so at an easy pace, then stepping up the pace by 15 seconds per mile for the second mile. Then I did it again for the third, knocking off another 15 seconds per mile. To non-runners, 15 seconds doesn’t sound like much, and of course it doesn’t take long for that 15 seconds to tick away. So now, the 9-minute-mile runner is zipping along at 8:30 for a third mile. Consider that this runner’s best race pace is 8 minutes per mile, so the next uptick in pace brings him to 8:15, then the fifth mile gets covered quickly in 8 minutes, and I am betting that our runner has taken his heart rate to near the max amount. So finally, just as we always should do, our final mile is an easy cool down that should be somewhere near the pace of the warmup mile. It will be the most productive 6-mile run ever. However, if 6 miles is too much, cut the distance down to 3 miles and make each segment half a mile, or roughly two laps on the track. This workout can work for any level of runner.

Tip No. 2 is all about focus. So many runners fall apart when it comes down to the sprint to the finish during shorter races. Form suffers and sometimes arms and legs both flail away. I used to tell myself as my body went into overdrive to “Focus, focus, focus.” Of course it was a blubber best heard by just me. Other words might be “drive” or “push.” You can choose your own word.

Tip No. 3 is the easiest of all. When approaching the finish, don’t allow yourself to just see the actual finish line. Look beyond it and push past it. For me, it was about seeing a point 10 feet past the finish so that I wouldn’t slow down too soon. As a runner and finish-line volunteer, I saw too many people focused on just stepping across the finish as they decelerated. Don’t do it. I once lost a race that way and learned my lesson.

Our Beginning Runners Class is off to a great start at Novant Health on Tuesday nights. We still have room for anyone interested to join in this Tuesday, Sept. 20. Just show up a few minutes ahead of class time at 6 p.m. Call 704-310-6741 with any questions. Check out www.salisburyrowanrunners.org  for running events in the area.

David Freeze is a nationally certified running coach and president of the Salisbury Rowan Runners. Contact him at david.freeze@ctc.net. Learn more at www.Ulearn2run.com

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