Find Your Finishing Kick

As a marathon runner, I used to downplay the importance of a finishing kick at the end of a race. I didn't think of myself as a sprinter or having fast-twitch muscle fibers. After all, how can a few super fast seconds at the end of 26 miles even make a difference?!

I found that I did have some kick at a 49K race in Anchorage, Alaska in 2015, where I was in the lead but overtaken with 200m to go. I told myself that I still had something left, using both mental and physical strength to regain the lead and break the tape in a photo finish! Since then, I incorporate specific training to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers and continue working on my finishing kick.

Data suggests that for almost all mid- and long-distance races, except the 800m*, elite athletes employ a "sit and kick" pacing strategy where you see a spike in running speed at the end of a race. So HOW exactly do you find that finishing kick?

We are born with an innate ability to use safety reserves when we're about to stop, regardless of what happened leading up to it. Then there is the physical aspect of having strong fast-twitch muscles. The more fast-twitch fibers we can activate, the more power and speed we can produce. And the more efficient you are in using your muscle fibers throughout the race, the more you will have left to use at the end. The two are related, because you need to tell your brain that you have and can use that leftover stored energy!

Functionally, a fast finish is either the result of a faster stride rate, longer stride length, or combination of the two. Drills to practice improving each one will help you improve that kick. The best way to train is doing a high number of shorter intervals such as 100m or 200m at maximum effort, focusing on your cadence and stride length and getting your legs used to running faster than normal.

With a higher number of reps like 10x 200m or 20x 100m, you will condition your body to run fast when the legs are tired, which is exactly how you will feel at the end of a race. It's key to maintain a strong and smooth form even during these sprints - running tall, face relaxed, arms driving straight up and down from the hips, legs landing underneath you, controlled breathing.

Finally, a supplemental way to shift your body to use fast-twitch muscle fibers is through plyometric training, where your muscles exert a maximum amount of force in a short amount of time. Single leg hops, split squat jumps, and pogo jumps are all good to do up to 2 times a week with 3x 10 repetitions. Combining a strong mind with short intervals and plyometrics will help you find that finishing kick and not let anything or anyone get by you!

*Athletes racing the 800 employ a "gun to tape" strategy where they go out hard and just try not to die, finishing at a slower speed than they started. Although, females do show a small uptick in speed compared to men who don't!