The Fast Finish - Chi Running

The Fast Finish

Posted by Danny Dreyer on Tue Oct 1st, 2013, 9 comments

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…

9 CommentsLeave a comment below

I know only too well the “fly and die” trap—I did it in the Vancouver marathon.  True, I had a new PR, but ended feeling depleted, unhappy, and sore for too long….

Danny, I used to do all the above as a matter of course in my early days of running, and the results were pretty spectacular. Regardless of the length of the race I’d always a storming finish and I’d some very impressive PR’s.
Now, at 81 years old, I’d dearly love to be able to repeat that ease of movement but, try as I might, and however much I study ‘Chi Running’ or your video, I cannot regain that flowing style, or run the distances I used to run. It’s most frustrating. Wish you were here!

Eamonn Kirk Oct 1st, 2013 04:00pm

I used this Earth/Water/Fire-Air philosophy of Danny’s in a half marathon last year. I felt great all the way round, and I was really strong in the last few miles. Managed a PB, but more importantly, it felt like the easiest race I’d ever done. So I think this works smile

I find this blog very appropriate for my elementary school cross country team. I have been “coaching this theory” from day one of practice not realizing you have written this advice in a blog. Although my athletes listen to me I am hopeful I can convince them that this is the best way to approach any race of almost any distance. I will print and distribute this blog to my “team” tonight at practice and hope they use it at our weekly race tomorrow.
  Thanks for reinforcing my own theory of “the start”, “the middle” and “the finish”
  Mike Carter , Coach at Rose M Gaffney Elementary School , Machias Maine

This is an excellent article.
The detail is, as is usually the case with DD’s writing, very helpful as we all work to improve and maintain our running form.
The connection of each run with earth, water, fire and air is useful to recall running focus and thereby improve our efficiency. It informs us of our relationship to our environment as we run - today, for example, I was the Columbia River. And it allows us to relax and be both comforted and strengthened as we bring to mind that we are part of a wider and ongoing reality.
Isn’t running wonderful?

I just love the imagery of Earth, Water and Fire here. I also like the way it reiterates the basic concepts of Chi Running eg it’s all about maintaining good technique at speed, and allowing speed to happen. I’ve had so many finishes at races that have let me drained and exhausted…. I’m def. going to give this June a really good go…

Question about the use of varying the pace, please.  If 175 cadence is practiced, what pace would be used in the beginning, middle and finsh?  Thanks.

Nice post, by the way.


Your optimal cadence is the same no matter what pace you are running. If you think about having maybe 4 gears, the first section of the race is first into second, the middle is second to third and the finish is trying for forth.

Ah, yes.  I remember that part of the workshop, now.

I’m still working on increasing the cadence, and I’m getting there.  Thanks, Jeff.

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