The end of a race is the hardest. You’ve started out conservatively, you maintained a steady pace, you remained calm on the crazy uphill portions and now you’re down to the last few miles, meters, feet and it’s HARD. How could you have ever prepared yourself for this? Well, I’ll tell you but a first, a little story.
My junior high school cross country coach was a dad from our community. He wasn’t a teacher, but a volunteer who took time out of his day to coach this rag-tag group of 11-14 year-olds while we ran around our local park. He was a nice man. He was also fond of the bullhorn during races. Whenever we got within about 600 yards of the finish line, we could hear his voice blaring out over the crowd and he was always saying the same thing, “Finish strong, into the chute. Keep going, you’re looking good.”
*Sidebar: Chute? This is before timing chips and you had to cross the finish line in between two ropes-a chute-as they shouted off times and stay in line as they took your bib number. High tech, right?
To this day, it’s the thing the Obi-wans and my siblings say to one another whenever we’re finishing something: a race, a class, a project, a long day…“Finish strong, into the chute.” It reminds us that we’re near the end and we have to give it all we got. If you can hear Coach, you’re almost there. Run harder!
And this is how I learned to run harder at the end than at the beginning.
In order to finish strong, you can do three key things during training:
#1. Negative split runs. You increase your pace every mile/half mile, depending on what distance you’re training for. Excellent training tool, especially for those of you who go off the line as though you’re at the Kentucky Derby.
#2. 5K finish workout. You run your long run at whatever pace you normally run long runs and take the last 5K to try to run at your 5K/10K pace. You’ll learn how the end of a race feels and how to remain calm while pushing your body. Great for marathoners.
#3. Middle of the run sprints. During a midweek run, take your middle 2 miles and break it down into 4 x 400 yard sprints with jogging recoveries in between each repeat. Then continue on and finish your run. It’s a great way to make sure your first half is the same speed as your second half, even with those speedy sprints in between.
Each of these workouts will train your body and your mind to stay focused in the middle of your race and to work harder at the end. If you do the same pace for every run and never vary your strategy, it’s difficult to anticipate what the end of a race will feel like. And trust me, you want to prepare yourself for those last 3 miles of a marathon because they will make or break you. Give these tricks of the trade a shot and you’ll be ready to go on race day!
Now go out and run. And “finish strong, into the chute!”