Ask Mario: How Do I Improve My Kick?

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Q.

Dear Mr. Fraioli,

I ALWAYS get passed at the end of the race, doesn’t matter if it’s a 5K or a half marathon. What can I do to finish faster in races so I don’t get passed?

Thanks,

Arni C.

A.

Arni,

It’s been said that, “It is true that speed kills. In distance running, it kills anyone who doesn’t have it.”

I think a better way of putting it is, “In distance running, speed kills anyone who isn’t strong enough to use it.”

We all have speed—some of us have a lot more of it than others—but at the end of a race, possessing all the wheels in the world won’t matter if you don’t have the strength to shift into fifth gear when a rival pulls up on your shoulder.

While we can all improve our basic speed to some degree through practice—flat sprinting, hill sprints, plyometrics and weight work are all great ways to improve your explosiveness—there’s even more potential for improvement regarding our speed-endurance, or the ability to maintain a fast pace before your legs are forced to shut it down for the day. In order to finish faster at the end of a race, it’s important to work on both of these elements in training—the key is emphasizing the right things at the right time and not neglecting either one for too long.

Early in your training cycle—12, 16 or more weeks out from your goal race or races—place a heavier emphasis on speed development, dedicating 2-3 days per week during the base building phase to doing a mix of 8-12-second hill sprints at near max effort, 50-150m repetitions nearing top speed with full recovery and regular plyometric work in the gym. These are short, but intense workouts that can place a tremendous amount of stress on your body, so be sure to ease into them and gradually build up your workouts over the course of a 4- to 8-week period.

As the training cycle progresses and the frequency of your more traditional speed workouts increases 8-10 weeks out from your goal race or races, begin to scale back the speed development workouts to once every 7-10 days. By this point, your body should be plenty strong enough to handle those types of sessions, which are now more of a speed maintenance workout than true speed development.

So what to do with this newfound top-end speed? Develop the strength—and skills—to use it! As you begin to do more traditional speed workouts and race-specific sessions, incorporate elements of “kicking” into race-specific interval sessions. One of my favorite ways to do this is called Sit-n-Kick Ks, where you take a standard set of 1-kilometer repeats, say 5 x 1K at 5K pace, and run the first 800 meters (2 laps of the track) at 5K race pace before changing gears for the final half lap and “kicking” home the final 200 meters. Or, for 10K runners doing 8-10 x 1K, run 600 meters at 10K pace and kick hard over the final 400. If you would normally take a two-minute rest between reps when running a workout of 1K reps at a consistent pace, add another 30 to 60 seconds if you add the gear-changing element into the mix.

Later in the training cycle you can also insert a couple sets of short hill sprints into an interval session, maintaining an element of speed development without compromising your race-specific work. An example would be a workout of 4 x 2 miles at half marathon race pace, taking 2:30 recovery after each 2-mile repetition and then performing 2 x 10-second hill sprints at max effort. Recover fully with 1:30 to 2:00 of walking/light jogging after each hill sprint before beginning the next 2-mile/2 x 10-second hill sprint sequence. The short, but intense uphill efforts recruit a greater number of muscle fibers, which will rapidly increase the muscular fatigue in your legs, making each subsequent 2-mile effort that much more of a challenge and forcing you to find that final gear you need in order to finish strong.

Remember, in distance running, good finishing speed only benefits those who have the strength to use it.

Happy kicking!

Mario

Ask Mario appears monthly in Competitor magazine and weekly on Competitor.com. Have a question for Mario? Submit it here.

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