Developing A Race Kick

When watching the track events during the Rio Olympic Games, you likely noticed many of the races came down to who could finish the fastest during the latter stage of the race. During some races, the drive to the finish began after the halfway point but in others the real racing didn’t begin until the bell lap. And from there, whoever could close the fastest emerged as the medal winners.

This type of race is all about developing a wicked kick and being able to quickly shift into another gear at the right time while battling end-of-race fatigue. Even for everyday runners, it’s a good tactic to learn – whether you’re racing the clock or a fellow runner, a blazing fast finish is a great way to achieve your goal.

Below, Coach Matt Thull from ThunderDome Running provides tips to help you kick in your next race.

Can you start off by explaining what a race kick is and what purpose it serves?

In a way it is hard to define since a race kick might start after the first 1/3 of the race (a longer extended/faster surge) or it might not start until the last 1/3 or even the last 1-2 minutes of a race. It’s usually a negative split attempt or a final push in to the finish. I consider the race kick an individual effort – one that allows you to sleep soundly at night knowing you left it all out there on race day.

What are the different types of kick a runner might use?

It’s interesting how many different ways runners can use a push-to-the-line kick. If you look at any distance racing record from the mile up to the marathon, they were set with a negative split and that leads right into using every different kind of kick available. It can start midway through the race after a relaxed start or a final quarter-mile kick or final minute kick after pushing the redline throughout the race.

What are the benefits of having a strong race kick?

A strong kick is what can help you achieve a negative split, a PR or a good old-fashioned race to the finish with someone in your age group. If you are actually thinking about a race kick, that means you probably did not run too fast in the early stages of the race. It’s also a lot more fun since you have momentum on your side, and you are getting to think about a race kick/running faster when you are most tired.

What are some running workouts a runner can do to develop a better race kick?

There are a lot of great options runners can use to help their race kick. Those pieces of training might be strength/gym/plyometric-based or might include actual running workouts. For running workouts, hills are great for developing a kick. Surges and speed ups within your runs help as well as ending all your hard workouts with some type of “FINAL” interval. A runner might choose to do a faster finish ¼ mile or ½ mile after their real workout. In a way that final interval is a bonus for the day—just like a kick is in a race.

Tell us more about strength training and plyometric workouts – how might these workouts help improve a runner’s kick?

Way too many runners “just run” and do not focus enough on the lower leg strength work that plyometrics, squats or even yoga bring out. The push comes from your core, hips and glutes in running. When you are more tired but wanting to kick—wouldn’t it be nice to rely on a strong lower half? So it’s totally worth it to do the gym work. Your turnover/cadence gets pretty slow and loafing if you don’t have strong glutes and lower legs.

How much of a strong race kick is mental? How can runners work at gathering themselves for that final push during a race?

With coaching high school runners I see this a lot, the big time SHOW of a final last 30-second mad dash into the finish line when the crowd is around happens all the time. Honestly, in a way that shows perhaps the runners did not push themselves hard enough in the middle of the race.

But maybe you went hard from the middle to the last part of the race used your race kick earlier than others – and that is also okay. That runner might not have as fast of kick but used the strong/long push to the finish line earlier in the race.

Often the big kick is a bonus because you have used up so much getting yourself to that last ¼ mile or last 30 seconds of the race. That race kick for anyone is the perfect mixture of mental and physical toughness since you have already raced hard but are now asking your legs/body to run harder—that is the ultimate kick & produces the most satisfaction. If you can think of the finish kick as very small parts of 30 seconds or 60 seconds you can ALWAYS push or sprint. So I recommend looking at your watch for those small running windows instead of thinking about how far it is to the finish line.

Do you have any other comments or tips?

It really helps to race under/shorter your focus race distance to work on your kick/speed. If you are a 10k runner, race some 5ks or mile races to work on your race kick/speed. If you are a half marathon or marathon runner, get out of your comfort zone/pace a bit and race some shorter distance races so half marathon/marathon pace feels easier. That way you will have a better chance to find that long extended kick in your distance races.

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Coach Thull! To learn more about ThunderDome Running and coaching services, visit ThunderDomeRunning.com.

We hope you all have a wonderful holiday weekend!

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

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