A sprint finish is always the most thrilling part of a race and also very satisfying if you're good enough to be called the victor. It is a useful weapon to have because it means you can usually just hang tough until the very last minute, confident that you'll be able to out kick most people you're with.
Mental strength for sprinting
The most important factor to remember is that you have to back yourself and believe you can win. If you're in the last 400m with someone else then usually it's because you're both as tired as each other, so always bear in mind that you have a good chance to be able to win.
Mastering sprinting technique
Technique is important and it only comes with practice, so when you're training it pays to invest some time in it! When you come into the sprint your technique should change from your previous running technique. You'll pump your arms more, pick up your cadence, push more off your back foot and keep your hips up.
Try to spend some time in training practicing your sprinting technique. How about trying 10 x 100m intervals as part of an easy run? Or alternatively, do it at the end of your track workout when it can feel good to really bring it home on the last rep. This way you're also getting used to the discomfort of sprinting when you're already tired. Co-ordination needs to develop and this only comes with practice.
Weight training for sprinting
Of course there are many ways to improve your sprinting, like weight sessions aimed at increasing your power as well as sessions specifically dedicated towards sprinting. In my opinion though, it's not a big enough part of our sport to invest too much in it. Why? Because I believe that by doing that it would detract from other aspects of training for triathletes.
Planning your sprint finish
Perhaps more useful for us is to prepare a plan in the eventuality of a sprint finish. Firstly I recommend measuring out the 400m to go mark and also the 200m to go mark. This way when you hit that point there is no doubt in your mind that there is not far to go and you can time your efforts accordingly. By doing track work in your training you’ll have a natural feel for how much you can push yourself over these distances.
400m to go is quite a long way out. It's a good idea if you feel strong and you know that you haven't got a heap of natural speed. It hurts the most that’s for sure but if you really go for it at 400m out, then mentally it kills the opponent because it's too early to be called a true sprint. 100m or 200m to go isn't too far if you're quite tired but naturally very fast because it means you can always last a 100m all out sprint. You have to make a judgement based on your strengths and also your opponent!
The last thing I will say is to try to make it a tactical surprise. You need to fight to be the one sitting in behind before you attack and when you decide to go, make sure you commit to it 100 per cent. Make yourself look awesome by getting a lot of ground very quickly and don't look back.
The worst thing to do is go at it half-heartedly by winding it up slowly because then you look weak and that will give your opponent a chance to gain confidence and see what you're doing. I hope that helps you next time it comes down to the wire and don't forget your finish celebration.