A kick (i.e. sprint towards the end of a race) doesn’t happen out of chance. Yes, some people are quicker than others by virtue of genetics. That aside, we can all become better kickers. The following comments are specific to kicking and must be taken in that context. A well planned training program is essential and no single workout will make you a better runner or kicker.
Kicking is a result of your neuro-muscular training. The fastest kick does not necessarily go to the one with the best VO2max, the one with the best lungs or biggest heart (the physical one not emotional one here). At the end of Olympic distance triathlons, marathons and national or world championships, the Boston marathon even the Rock’n’Roll Marathon in Phoenix, the runner with the best kick has won time and time again.
The ability to kick is a function of your training. If you do not train for a kick, you will not have a strong one. It is why speed work is so essential to a sound training program. Moreover, specific speed-type workouts will enhance your ability to kick. If you don’t do it in practice, you won’t do it in a race. Here are some good workouts to build your ability to kick.
Long Run Routines
On your long run, pick up the last mile: 10k pace for about 1200 meters then blast the last 400.
Run the last mile or two of a long run down hill. Push the pace to 10k pace. Run a negative split long run.
Go out at your goal pace (i.e. goal marathon pace) and then go faster on the way back home. Pick up the last mile faster yet.
Repetitions on the Track
Mile repeats with the first 1200 evenly paced at 5k pace then blast the last 400.
600s with first 400 at mile pace then blast the last 200.
Run mile repeats with each lap progressively faster.
Repeats with the first reps run at your target repeat pace, then, each progressive repeat run faster. (i.e. run 10k pace x2, 5k pace x2, mile pace x2, faster than mile pace x2, last one all out).
Ladder workout with target times faster when you come down the ladder. (i.e. 400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1200, 800, 400 and running the last three or four repeats faster)
The goal of each of these workouts is to get you accustomed to running fast while tired; both physiologically and psychologically.
The other aspect of kicking is strategy. First, know yourself. Do you have the ability and mental tenacity to drive the pace longer or do you prefer to go after it in the final few hundred meters? In either case, you will need to train for it: mentally and physically.
The biggest pitfall of kicking or planning to kick is “saving it” for the kick. There is only one case for this strategy and that is when you are with your prime competitor who you want to beat. In which case, you are racing the person, not the clock. In all other cases, know your goal pace and stick to it. The research is pretty convincing, for all events over 800 meters, go even paced the entire distance. It is the best use of energy and yields the fastest times. Then give it everything you have left at the end. Do not let your running form deteriorate.
The Mental Aspect
It is not comfortable pushing while fatigued near the end of a race. The mental tenacity to persist and in fact go faster is a critical element. Rehearse race thoughts during training. Some of you remember one of our battle cries, “nobody, but nobody beats us in the last mile.” Reciting affirmations like this helps us stay focused on the effort. Find one that works for you… and rehearse it! Here are some other ideas:
When the going gets tough, the tough go faster.
Get after it!
A Couple Things That Don’t Work
Contrary to some beliefs, running hard uphill at the end of a workout won’t necessarily make you a faster kicker. It may make you strong. But, remember, it is a neuro-muscular thing we are trying to address. Your legs though powerfully churning uphill are moving slower than on a flat or downhill terrain. Kicking involves moving legs faster.
Once you are in condition for your appropriate race distance, whatever that is, more miles won’t help your kick. The strategy of adding more miles to your weekly mileage or long run fails for the same reason mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Kicking is a neuro-muscular-specific action as well as a psychological mindset. So, if you want a kick, train for it.