Second Place Is Nothing More Than First Loser

Jannine Myers

I remember when I first heard the saying “Second place is first loser.” I didn’t like it. I felt that it smacked of ignorance and a poor loser attitude. But a couple of weekends ago, at the annual Futenma Magic 10 Miler, I took second place and got a sense of what it feels like to be the “first loser.”

In a nutshell here’s basically what happened: I held the lead (among the females) until literally the last turn before the finish line. Unfortunately I was blindsided and caught completely off guard by another female who sprinted right past me, all the way to the finish line; I didn’t stand a chance of catching her. Losing a race in that way is so disappointing, and it certainly diminishes the joy of a second place victory.

Incidentally, I once read an article about a study that rated the “happiness level” of Olympic silver and bronze medalists. The results suggested that bronze medalists are much happier with their win because a silver medalist tends to compare him/herself with the winner, while a bronze medalist is more likely to compare him/herself with everyone else who did not win a medal. However, getting back to the point of this blog post…..

As disappointed as I was, I was also impressed with the Japanese triathlete who beat me; not only did she ride to and from the race – a long distance I’m sure – but she also gutted it out over the last few hundred meters by lengthening her stride and picking up her pace with significant power and speed. That’s how I wish I had been able to finish, but I had neither the strength or energy to do so. I dismally lagged behind and ate her dust as she crossed the finish line ahead of me.

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First Place Female, and me – First Place Loser

My goal now is to train in such a way that I am not only able to maintain a strong pace throughout the race, but so that I am also able to find that extra kick at the end if I need to. The following is a list of training tips, for both competitive and non-competitive runners, that offer advice on how to finish strong:

1. Coach Christine Luff says, “Although most of us runners aren’t going to lose out on money or medals if we get beat in the final stretch of a race, it’s still very satisfying and thrilling to have a strong finish.” She recommends doing the following to improve your finishing kick:

  • Practice doing some, not all, of your runs in a negative split (finish the second half of your run faster than the first)
  • Do a few miles of your long runs at race pace
  • Incorporate hill repeats into your training cycle, as they make you stronger as well as improve your running efficiency and increase your lactate threshold
  • Add strength exercises such as squats, lunges, and plyometric drills to build strength and explosive power
  • Don’t start your races too fast; this is probably one of the most common mistakes made by runners.

2. In a article, author Caitlin Chock quotes Nike employee coach, Sean Coster, who says that “An athlete’s finishing power ultimately decides between a win or a loss.” Developing a speed reserve that can be tapped into during the final finishing stretch requires a certain type of training, and according to Chock’s article, specifically a two-pronged approach: 1. training the body to recruit as many fibers as possible, and 2. learning to utilize that recruitment when the muscles are fatigued. Some of the workouts suggested include:

  • One day a week of either all-out 20m-100m sprints, or short, steep hill repeats, or plyometric drills. Power-based workouts such as these need to be done in a “refreshed” state, with full recoveries between.
  • Steve Magness has his runners do three sets of 4 × 400m at 3K pace with 3 × 80m hill sprints between sets.
  • Magness also suggests that advanced runners combine strength and plyometrics by running 100m strides for example, and alternating with sets of squats and lunges. The idea, he explains, is to force muscle recruitment, and then learn to use it while running.
  • Read the full article here to see more tips on developing a strong finishing kick

3. In another article, author Lindsey Emery shared these fast-finish workouts:

  • Out-and-back
    The details: Head out to a designated point, turn around, and run the return slightly faster. Start with about 20 minutes (10 minutes out, less than 10 minutes back), and gradually work up to 60 minutes, depending on your goal distance.
  • 400s
    The details: Do 4 to 8 x 400 meters with a 100-meter recovery jog between each. Run the first 2 to 4 repeats at a comfortable pace (10 to 30 seconds per mile slower than goal pace). Speed up successive repeats so the final 1 to 2 laps are 10 to 15 seconds per mile faster than race pace.
  • 2000s
    The details: Do 2 to 4 2000-meter intervals (5 times around a track) at race pace with a 400-meter recovery jog between each. End with 1000 meters (2.5 times around) at slightly faster than goal pace.
  • Progressive long run
    The details: Run the first quarter of your total distance easy (goal pace plus 45 to 60 seconds). For each successive quarter, run your goal pace plus 30 seconds, plus 20 seconds, plus 10 seconds. If possible, run the last mile or so at goal pace.

Try incorporating one or more of these workout strategies into your training routine and see if it makes a difference in your next race. As for me, I’ll be focusing on the 400s with successively faster repeats, and if I ever take home a second place award again, it will hopefully be because I sprinted past another runner!

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