A strong kick at the end of a race can make the difference between standing on the podium to receive your medal or watching the awards ceremony from the bleachers. We hit up Trey Zepeda, strength and conditioning coach for the University of Texas track and field team, to learn how the Longhorns shift into that extra gear.
STACK: Talk about the importance of possessing a strong kick.
TZ: It’s the most important tactical skill you can have as a runner. No matter how tired you are during a race, you should always be able to pick your pace up at the end.
STACK: When should a runner start to kick?
TZ: I tell my runners to have a plan, and an alternative if the race doesn’t go the way they envisioned. We figure out what they will do if they get boxed in, or if the pace is faster than expected. If you get boxed in, keep your composure and try to escape by the last 400. Initiate your kick there instead of at the 200, because, more than likely, you’ll be behind. Same thing if the pace is quicker than expected—start your kick a little sooner.
STACK: How can an athlete learn to develop and use his kick?
TZ: You can tell an athlete all you want when and when not to kick. But until he’s in an actual race, he won’t be able to apply it. But during training, he should replicate the race as much as possible.
STACK: How can athletes improve their ability to kick into that final gear?
TZ: With speed work. You can do repetition work, intervals and running hills, both down and up. Basically, any training you do can improve your kick; there is no secret formula. I tell my kids that they need to improve strength, power, speed, endurance, tactical awareness and self-belief. It comes down to who wants it more at the end and who has trained the hardest.