What do you do late in a race? When you need to go a little faster, how do you respond?
If you’re like most runners, you dig deep. You push yourself and strain for that last possible bit of effort. It makes sense. Run faster by exerting more effort.
Is this the best way to run faster, though?
When we start to dig, we strain. We tense up and fight against ourselves. Our muscles tighten up and work against each other instead of working in coordination with each other, one muscle relaxing as the opposing muscle tenses.
This causes us to work harder for no gain or even our own detriment. Instead, we would be better served to stay relaxed and focus on adjustments in our mechanics. Focus on pushing off a little harder to lengthen your stride. Focus on increasing your stride rate. Don’t just strain and work against yourself.
I know how hard this advice is to practice. I’ve known this is what we should be doing but I still fall victim in races to straining for every last bit of effort. I’m a work in progress. I hope you will also consider making yourself a work in progress. But how? When you’re fatigued late in a race, it’s hard to think clearly. You’re on autopilot. The last thing I want you thinking about is a blog post I wrote.
So what do you do then? Like most things you want to do on race day, you need to practice this in training. You need to practice it so much that it just becomes automatic.
In your next workout, try something a little different. When you are late in the workout and want to pour on a little more effort to finish strong, don’t just think “run harder”. Think “quicker steps” or “push off a little harder”.
This won’t absolve you of running harder. You have to push harder to take those quicker steps or to push off a little harder to lengthen your stride. What it does is focus your effort. It points the extra effort you’re expending in a productive direction instead of letting that effort go wherever it may, which often means unproductive directions.