How to train for the best sprint finish

Sprint training tips

You must have watched many races on TV over the years and noticed the number of times that a race is won with a sprint finish. You might also wonder how these guys are able to run THAT fast at the end of a race.

Written by Scott Overall

Scott is a British long distance athlete who represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics. His marathon PB is currently 2:10:55.

There are a number of reasons for this, and nearly all of them come down to the training that has preceded the race. It is important to understand "speed" and how one person’s perception is different to another. For example a 100m sprinter would consider 9 seconds for 100m SPEED, but tell a 10km athlete to run 100m in 9 seconds and they'll laugh - it would be more like 12/13 seconds for them.

A sprint finish comes from strength

What allows athletes to sprint at the end of the race is all the strength they have developed over the years. When it comes to the closing stages of a race, the aim is to get there feeling as fresh as possible so that you have enough left in the tank to produce a sprint finish. It might not be as fast as you think but it is significantly quicker than the pace the rest of the race has been run.

Completing the last 400m of a 10km in 60 seconds is going to be quick, but actually it would probably be around 8-10 seconds slower than the same athlete could run 400m on their own if they were fresh. Therefore it is not all out blazing speed, it is having the strength to pick up the pace at the end and know that the finish is within reach. Part of this is mental. It doesn't matter how tired you are at the end of the race you will ALWAYS be able to find something extra, even if that is just a 20m burst at the end. The trick is to know this mentally and prepare physically to be ready and extend the distance you can sprint at the end.

Sprint sessions

Training for a sprint finish isn't something that distance runners really train for, it is more about training to be strong like I mentioned before. You always want to incorporate some running into your training at a pace you would want to finish the race. Basically that means training at the fastest pace you would ever be running at a certain point in the race. This is done by using shorter reps, such as 200m, and doing maybe 10 - 20 of them, but all pretty quick (for the individual). This will get the legs used to running faster than usual and due to the number of reps, it teaches the body to run fast when the legs are tired which is exactly how you will feel at the end of the race.

Hill training

Hill running is also another component of training that can be used to improve your sprinting abilities. The resistance of the hill when you try to sprint up it will make sprinting on a flat surface feel much easier. You will also need to work more on your technique when you’re running up the hill. This means driving the arms and getting a good knee lift to enable you to get up the hill at pace. When you practise this enough you will get used to doing it and you'll be able to "drive" much better when sprinting.

Run strides at the end of your training

Strides at the end of a run will also give you the opportunity to run quickly when the legs are tired. Even though this is not a session in itself, it just means you are spending more time during the week running quickly. 6-10 100m strides at the end of the run will really help with any soreness you might have from the run itself or the previous day’s training. Give it a go, and I bet you feel so much better on stride number five than you did after stride number one!  In between each one give yourself as long as you need before you're ready to go again. Like I said it is not a strict session, it’s just about getting the legs moving faster and feeling better at the end of it. Happy sprinting!

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