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July 07, 2012

The Kick - What, When, and How

Written by Dena Evans

Kick is a term used to describe an emphatic finish.  The final sprint is one way to talk about it, but many times, a kick can include a push that more closely resembles a tsunami rather than a crashing wave.

Whether you are running a one mile race or a marathon, sometimes a kick can help leave you with the definitive and lasting positive memory of a race that may not even have gone well otherwise.  So, what are some key things to remember as you prepare to unleash yours next weekend?

Oftentimes, a kick doesn't necessarily mean speeding up, it just may mean resisting the urge to slow down. In many races, people will finish faster than others, but none of them may be running the pace they started the race at.  The athletes that appear to be going fastest are often the ones with the resolve to carry on at a time where you feel like giving in to discomfort.  If you are trying to develop a kick, finishing at your average pace may be a good place to start. If your goal is to finish a 5k in 25 minutes and you reach 3 miles in 24 minutes, you know you have to run about your same pace for the final tenth of a mile and you have little room for error.  Instead of worrying about finding a Usain Bolt-like burst of speed, try to relax and emulate a mid workout rhythm that you recognize as approximately the right pace.

Your kick begins in your head. In order to summon energy to make a final push at the end of a grueling race, there needs to be a call to action.  Why do you want to pick it up?  What is the goal?  Sometimes the goal can be getting under a certain time, or moving a few more spots up the results.  One way to make sure that you will be pre-disposed to finding that extra cup of energy is to both commit to some specific goals, and then visualize yourself coming through the finish while accomplishing them.  At three miles in 24 minutes, the 25 minute 5k goal suddenly becomes a mere minute from reality, at which point it becomes something to look forward to and a draw, rather than the huge mountain it seemed 3 miles ago.  Anticipate the feeling of accomplishment, and when it gets near, you will be looking forward to something specifically which will focus your attention on the achievable goal ahead rather than late race discomfort.

Practice finishing strong in training.
Like anything else you do in training, your kick can be developed by practicing both short and longer stretches where you run with controlled aggression at the end of a hard session.  Even practices such as picking up the last part of your daily run from the corner to your driveway, or surging up a particular hill in your local state park can condition your body and mind to "changing gears" from a steadier rhythm into a pace and mentality with more alacrity even when you are fatigued. Through this process you can also sort out where and when you are most comfortable making a strong move.  If you have good natural speed, you may choose to make a shorter burst (your weapon of choice), but if endurance is your strength, then practice a lengthier, steadier drive to the finish. When you are practicing this, do the following:
  1. Make a conscious effort to increase the rate at which you are cycling your legs through and back on to the ground.  You should hear a quicker rhythm as your feet strike the ground one after the next.
  2. Make a conscious effort to keep your face, neck, and shoulders relaxed while creating a slightly more dynamic and quicker pace elbow drive backwards as you swing your arms (see: What Do I Do With My Arms).
  3. Find a fixed point ahead, such as the balloon arc of a finish banner, or the roof of your house, and focus on getting to that point while resisting other distractions.
  4. Do not look back as that will slow your rate of forward progress.  Pretty soon, your body will react in concert to the "final push" stimulus because it has been conditioned to do so on a regular basis in your daily runs.
  5. Resist the temptation to go "all-out" except for in races.  You should practice a controlled kick to become accustomed with late race efforts but not hammer all-out.  Save those best kicks for race day.
At runcoach, we encourage you to execute your training sessions at the prescribed paces, but we recognize the value of an emphatic finish to leave a positive impression.  When race day comes, you'll be prepared both mentally and physically to finish on a high note.