End-of-Season Running: Strategies for the Final Push

Staff Writer
Three-time All-American Forest Braden on finishing strong

The end of the season in any sport has its own dynamic. Final events loom, injuries can pile up, and motivation sometimes falters. As a three-time All-American and winner of seven Western Athletic Conference titles, Forest Braden knows how to fine tune late season running. Now an assistant coach for the cross country team at the University of California, Los Angeles, Braden uses his experience to help UCLA athletes finish strong.

We caught up with Braden over email to ask him a few questions about motivation and training.

It’s nearing the end of the season. What techniques are your runners most focused on right now and why?
Right now, we are focused on taking care of the little details that make the big things happen. These include rest, eating right, icing and stretching. If a runner is sick or injured, they are not going to help the team, so everyone needs to be smart with training and living at the end of the season.

In terms of training, we are starting to get in faster, more intense workouts to callous the body and the mind for the big races coming up. Many of our harder sessions are now run at faster-than-race pace and we have incorporated several shorter interval workouts in with our strength work to help achieve a faster pace.

We are also cutting down the intensity of our long runs and emphasizing taking recovery runs and secondary shakeout runs easier than before. Mileage is starting to come down for most of the runners so that their legs can feel fresher.

What are your current mantras for running?
I preach consistency, industriousness and confidence. I believe in taking a long-term approach to finding success in this sport and to consistently get better every day, week, month and year. Many athletes want success immediately and grow impatient when they do not realize their goals right away. My runners know that I expect them to try their best and to be the best athlete and person they can be, but they also know that I want them to be patient and focused on the journey.

I let them know that there is no excuse for being outworked. Great runners are made through their industriousness; only after hard work will their talents truly shine through.

In order to be great you have to think great and this begins with confidence. Step to the line with the self-assurance of a champion. Believe in yourself, your training and your workouts. The mind is a powerful weapon and is vital to achieving success in our sport.

What is the most useful piece of advice you’ve heard for runners in the last month?
Don’t lose sight of what’s truly important and keep failure in perspective.

This came up in a conversation I had with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo coach Mark Conover at a recent coaches gathering in Madison, Wisconsin before a big invite.  

I think that many athletes and coaches (myself included) often lose sight of what’s ultimately important and put too much pressure on themselves to perform at an unrealistic level. Pressure can be a great motivational factor, but unrealistic pressure can kill confidence and ruin the moral.

Failure is a big part of success and keeping it in perspective is part of growing and maturing as an athlete and as a person. It’s important not to dwell on the negative. Bad workouts and bad races happen but it is never the end of the world.