Don’t wait for the kick

In the previous two blogs I discussed the merits of starting the race faster than you have before, and then pressing the pace in the middle while others are resting. Both tactics involve doing something most of us would rather not do―extend ourselves and take added risks. But, since we’ve already come this far in the conversation, let’s talk about the finish-line; the place where so many runners like to end their performance with the all-important finishing kick.

If you ask me, the way the masses cross the finish-line, you’d think there was a limited supply of jelly donuts waiting across the line, and runners had just gotten wind of this fact in the final 50 yards of the event. No doubt, everyone likes a strong finishing kick. But, too many people equate a fast 50-yard kick with a successful race. I maintain that road-racing can be viewed as a metaphor for life. It involves the vast majority of folks starting out tentatively, floating in the middle, and waiting until the very end to start their kick. That strategy gets them to the finish-line, but it provides a less than ideal sense of satisfaction and leaves folks questioning whether this is all there is to running. The results of this tentativeness are substandard races and lives completed with feelings of regret.

Now, I’ll forge ahead and suggest that folks should start kicking way earlier than the prevalent method of waiting for the final 50 yards of a race. Starting one’s kick with a quarter mile or more to go makes much more sense to me. It doesn’t take much effort to muster up the energy for a strong 50 yard kick when you’ve been holding back for the entire race. But, when a person starts out fast and then runs hard in the middle, how fast can he be expected to kick? Just where is all that energy supposed to come from? If anything, it sounds like the perfect setup for failure. That wasn’t my experience, however.

My own running career began to take off when I started to employ the very strategies mentioned here. Perhaps, they’re not ideal for everyone. But, I would argue that these suggestions are appropriate for far more people, than not. At worst, following this advice would make for a more competitive race. At best, it would result in far greater numbers of people reaching their full running potential. Admittedly, when I first began to employ this hard-pressing racing style, I was unable to maintain the strenuous effort for the entire race. But, with the passage of time, the point in the race where I began to struggle was pushed further and further back, until it occurred only during the later stages, if it occurred at all. And, by that time, the few runners remaining within striking distance were all experiencing something quite similar. Regardless of whether I actually won the entire event―you can’t win them all, after all―I was most always in contention, for at least an age-group medal. I posit that most runners could receive a similar experience, but only if they were willing to take more chances.

I hit the apex of my running career, nearly fifteen years after I laced on my first pair of running shoes at the age of 17. Even at the height of my career, mind you, I was still subject to the inevitable race-day implosion. With that being said, the occasions when my body failed me happened only once or twice a season. Most often, the reason was that I’d failed to give myself adequate rest between efforts. Those running experiences taught me some valuable life lessons.

What I learned over the course of my career was that our bodies can tolerate far more effort than we think they can, that much of life involves mind over matter, and that our potential is far greater than we perceive. I am convinced that to enjoy a rich fulfilled running experience requires getting outside of one’s comfort zone and taking chances. You have to push when others are putting on the brakes, take a few risks when others are calling for prudence, and stop waiting for the kick. As in life, one’s positive running experiences will be proportionate to the chances he takes and the opportunities he’s willing to seize.

In running,
Dennis Gravitt

The lessons I learned (Part III of III)