The 4th Quarter Smackdown.

The end of the race is where you either finish strong, hold steady, or fade.  Often times winning and losing, a pr, or even finishing comes down to what happens in the last part of the race.  Your pace in early stages of the race is for naught if you can’t finish and “get er done.” 

Fourth Quarter Smackdown specifically refers to finishing a race holding at least even splits, or preferably negative splits (getting faster).  Any kind of surging, dropping opponents, outkicking a finish sprint is included in the description.  Failure to complete a 4th quarter smackdown is when your pace slows or you do not have ability to make competitive moves to achieve your desired finish result (place or time). 

Here I outline 4 levels of the 4th Quarter Smackdown, ranging from most conservative to most advanced. 

Level 1: Start conservatively, guaranteeing an even or negative split.  This is by far the best strategy for novice racers, or anytime you are moving up to a longer distance than you are familiar with.  In fact, what feels extremely conservatively often turns out to be the fastest pace you can tolerate in later stages.  Remember, you can always go faster if you have energy left at the end. 

Level 2: Start more aggressively, requiring greater discipline and focus to complete the 4th Quarter Smackdown.  This strategy is more risky, and requires greater confidence in your conditioning.  Racers employing this strategy are seeking every  possible advantage to reach a stretch PR or competitive result.  Your risk of failing to finish strong is exponentially greater to the degree you complete more at Level 2 strategy then level 1.

Level 3: This is basically an all-out effort from start to finish.  Only a tiny percentage of racers can race like this, those of truly superhuman mental focus and fitness.  This is certainly more tolerable in shorter races but some athletes can apply this mindset to ironman distances. 

Level 4: What else is there after an all out 100% effort?  It took me a long time to figure this out. The truly greatest champions of sport have a special quality… in the midst of complete failure and collapse, from the jaws of defeat they are able to snatch a victory.   Maria Sharapova, Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Tim Deboom.  In the 2008 Olympics we saw particularly compelling LEVEL 4 smackdowns by the men's 4 x 100 swim relay (pictured above) and also Michael Phelps in the 100 breaststroke (where he out-touched for a .01th of a second margin.

But remember, you don't have to be an 11-time gold medalist to do a Level 4 4th quarter smackdown.  When you are struggling and having low points in a training day or race, find it in YOU to have the heart of a champion.  Realize that through focus and intensity you can surpass what you think are your physical limitations. 

Choose the appropriate racing strategy for your ability and experience, and remember that heroic quality of Level 4 in case you need it.   Special thanks to Jamie Dial for inspiration and helping me develop these ideas fully.