The Fast Finish
Finishing strong and fast at the end of a race sounds like a great idea, until you try to actually do it. At the start of any event the adrenalin and energy of the crowd make it really tempting to start off too fast. But, many people “hit the wall” because too much fuel is being spent up front. This scenario holds true for just about every race distance, whether it’s a 5K run or a half marathon. Ultra marathoners know this scenario only too well, with phrases like, “Start off slow… and taper,” or “fly and die".
Finishing fast is certainly doable, but you’ll need to reorient your mind to the idea that it’s not about pushing yourself at the end of a race. It’s about training yourself to create the conditions for speed to happen by making an important adjustment to your training habits – progressive pacing.
Divide every race and training run into three sections: the start, the mid-run and the finish. For ease of learning and remembering, I’ve given each section has its own specific theme, based on the natural elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air. Here’s how the three sections play out.
Earth: The Start – the first 25% of your run
Earth symbolizes structure and support, so during the first part of your run focus on everything that promotes the optimal support phase of your stride. Focus on your postural alignment, the engagement of your core and the forward-leaning balance of your body. Look for a solid feeling in your support stance and relax everything else. In other words spend this time making your biomechanics as efficient as possible. This includes establishing a consistent cadence (with your metronome) and a midfoot strike. Having all these things working for you at the beginning is much more important than how fast you’re running. So take your time, and be patient– like earth is patient.
Water: The mid-run –60% of your run
Once you’ve established a smooth running machine it’s time to settle in and maintain a nice, steady, sustainable pace. Think of the element Water and get yourself into the mindset of flow; not like a rushing stream, but like a big river steadily winding its way to the ocean. The keyword during this phase is relaxation, work on relaxing (the water element) your arms and legs practice your pelvic rotation (pg. 61-62 CR Book) by relaxing your hips and lower back. This will lengthen your stride and ease your effort level. Relax your arms and shoulders as well. Keep your shoulders stable, but allow your arms to swing freely. Let your lean carry you. Steady as she goes…
Fire and Air: The Finish – the final 15% of your run
This last section of your run is where you turn up the heat, so to speak, and add in some Fire and Air. Contrary to what you might think, this doesn’t mean working your legs harder. It means increasing your mental focus (Air) and your upper body usage (Fire), while allowing your legs to relax and work less by letting go of any effort below the waist.
As you close in on the finish, bring in your upper body focuses (Fire): use a more forward emphasis in your armswing; lift upward and forward with the crown of your head; balance yourself slightly more forward in your lean and stay light on your feet. Check in with your metronome and match your stride rate with it right through to the finish.
Most importantly, in this final stage, engage your y’chi (pg. 44 & 54 CR Book) and your breath (Air) for focus and power when you need it most. These are the two very powerful ingredients to tap into whenever you need a boost in your momentum.
It’s a law we can live with…
As you instate this progression in ALL of your training runs, it will become easier to apply during races. For many years I’ve made an agreement with myself to always end every training run with a fast finish, by gradually increasing my pace from slow to fast, so that I don’t use up all the fuel I have in my tank; and I always finish faster than I start.
Here’s a final “finishing” thought to think about. If your pacing progresses from slower to faster, and everyone else’s going from faster to slower, it means you’ll be passing people throughout the race (I guarantee it). When you train yourself to finish faster than you start, you have a huge psychological advantage, knowing there’s always more left in your tank as you approach the finish. Talk about a boost in your energy…