You want to run a strong Last Mile? Yes? Great. I’m going to give you some tips for how to do it, but first I want to break down a misconception.
Step 1: Own it.
YOU DESERVE TO FINISH STRONG. You do! You really do. What’s that you’re trying to tell me to talk yourself out of it? Nope, that’s not a good reason.
Listen. You deserve it. You deserve to celebrate your effort with an exclamation point, and the bath of endorphins that goes with it. You deserve to be the one who inspires someone on the sidelines. To do this, the first mental step is owning the goal, and claiming it for yourself, at any pace and place. Claim your goal when you look in the mirror, or when you’re on a run…before long you’ll believe you can do it.
Step 2: Pick a Strategy
It’s important to have a race plan. A strong last mile typically doesn’t happen by accident. You’ve got two main options here. You can jog around until the last mile and then run like a wild banshee. That is a legitimate option and don’t let anyone tell you differently, it’s fun. Or, if you are interested in finding your potential limits in the race overall, as well as the Last Mile, you can ride the line a bit more. You need to know what you’re trying to achieve, and how you plan to do it (be specific!), before you step on the start line.
Step 3: Break it Down
Runners trying for a goal often become fluent in quantitative measures first, like pacing, but to finish a strong race with a stronger Last Mile you need a qualitative race strategy. I recommend breaking the race into three parts mentally.
Bring it Home
You need to know what you’re trying to achieve, and how you plan to do it (be specific!), before you step on the start line.
For most of the race, you’ll want to approach it like a “run” rather than a “race”—relaxed, mentally at ease, running a pace you are fairly confident is sustainable, with no drama. This is my mom voice talking: No getting carried away! When you are tapered and full of excitement and anticipation, the pace you’ve been training for can feel super easy those first few miles and the temptation is to suddenly change the plan. This is the part of the race where people think, “Maybe I’m way fitter than I thought! I set my goal too low. Maybe I am really Des Linden! I’m going to bank some faster miles while I’m feeling good!” No. Harness that energy into plot tension. “This feels easy, I’m excited for a chance to unleash later!”
Somewhere between the halfway point and the penultimate mile, pick a specific point where you will let yourself begin to race. Personally I like to have 2/3 of the race behind me, so in a half marathon, I like mile 8 or 9. In a marathon, anytime after mile 17. This is where you take stock, deepen your concentration, and put some skin in the game. Maybe you begin to click into a slightly faster pace per mile, maybe you methodically begin to pick off some people in the pack ahead of you. You are starting to get excited. You are working your way into the group of people you want to fly by in the Last Mile.
Bring it Home
As the Last Mile approaches, let yourself begin to draw your focus to it. Imagine yourself changing gears, build some plot tension and anticipation while keeping your current pace controlled. You are about to be unleashed, but not yet. With the mile marker only a few steps away now, relax your face and shoulders, tune into the rhythm of your feet and lighten the steps underneath you slightly, give yourself a lift, raise the landing gear…and then begin that build towards the finish you’ve been waiting for. You are strong. You are doing it! No matter what is happening around you, you are in your own body, speaking the language of effort. The question is no longer will you finish, it is will I allow myself to let go…of limits, of expectations, of judgement, and enter into the place of synapses and chemistry and mystery and all out, unrestrained effort?
The answer of course is yes.