The PR BlogCreativitySelf-ImprovementThe Acceleration Theory: Use Momentum To Finish First

The Acceleration Theory: Use Momentum To Finish First

Don't go for top speed quickly—extend your acceleration instead.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

The accel­er­a­tion the­ory can help you crush your competition.

At times in life, it might seem like every­one is ahead.

At such times, you might exper­i­ence stress, self-doubt, and per­form­ance anxi­ety — espe­cially if you have a com­pet­it­ive personality. 

Struggling to stay ahead at all times might be drain­ing men­tally and phys­ic­ally. Just keep­ing up becomes a chore.

Turns out that stay­ing ahead might also be over­rated. I came to this con­clu­sion when research­ing how to become a bet­ter sprinter. 

Here we go:

My Sprint Experiment in Greenwich Park

In 2004, I lived in Greenwich, London. My girl­friend and I ren­ted a run­down apart­ment above a loc­al post office near Cutty Sark.

Broke and rest­less, we spent much time exer­cising in Greenwich Park, home of the GMT date line. The park was an excel­lent place to play around with a stop­watch and some sprints. 

Running athlete in Greenwich Park, visual art, highly detailed - Acceleration Theory
AI art. Prompt: “Running ath­lete in Greenwich Park, visu­al art, highly detailed.”

Why not? We were both strong sprint­ers in high school and wanted to see if we could still hit some decent times.

I quickly learned that I was­n’t even close to any of my high school records. As dis­ap­point­ing as this was, I added some inter­val train­ing to my regi­men. I pushed myself hard but could not get my new, slow times down. 

Whatever speed I had as a teen­ager now seemed to be gone.

Still, I was­n’t ready to give up.
I turned to research.

Inspired by the Best of the Best

I remem­ber watch­ing the 100-meter dash in the Olympics as a kid. I was mes­mer­ised by how some sprint­ers could come up from behind in the last part of the race and crush their opponents. 

But at the same time, I always wondered:

If an élite sprint­er is lead­ing the 100-meter dash at 80 meters and someone else is com­ing up fast from behind, why isn’t the pack lead­er put­ting up more of a fight? 

I reasoned that some­thing must be left in the tank with only 20 meters to the fin­ish line. But no. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 100-meter dash sprint­er pick up the pace that close to the fin­ish line.

Naturally, I star­ted search­ing for how the 100-meter dash works from a math­em­at­ic­al perspective. 

I will use more recent data points from Maurice Green and Usain Bolt to illus­trate some of my findings.

Data Points from Maurice Green 

In his paper, A Mathematical Model of the 100M and What It Means, Kevin Prendergast out­lines a for­mula for describ­ing what hap­pens dur­ing a 100-meter dash. 

Prendergast tests his proof on the res­ults from the 1999 World Championships, where data from the eight final­ists were ana­lysed. Seven sprint­ers were then grouped and com­pared to the win­ner, Maurice Greene.

Data points from the sprint­ers (exclud­ing Maurice Greene) in that race showed:

  • Reaction time 0.14sec
  • Speed lim­it 11.68 m/​s
  • Initial accel­er­a­tion 10.05 m/​s²
  • Acceleration con­stant 0.8609
  • Duration of accel­er­a­tion 6.44sec
  • Duration of decel­er­a­tion 3.38sec
  • Point of max speed 59.79m
  • Max speed 11.50m/s
  • Total time 9.96sec

And here are the same data points, but for Maurice Greene alone:

  • Reaction time 0.13sec
  • Speed lim­it 11.77m/s
  • Initial accel­er­a­tion 10.12m/s²
  • Acceleration con­stant 0.8600
  • Duration of accel­er­a­tion 8.68sec
  • Duration of decel­er­a­tion 0.99sec
  • Point of max speed 86.84m
  • Max speed 11.73m/s
  • Total time 9.80sec

Oh, cool.

The sev­en final­ists reached their points of max speeds at an aver­age of 59.79 meters into the race, at which point Maurice Green was still accel­er­at­ing, reach­ing his max speed at 86.84 meters! It shows in the dur­a­tion of accel­er­a­tion, which for Greene was 8,68 seconds (almost the entire race!) and 6,44 seconds for the rest.

Greene’s max speed was­n’t much high­er than the oth­ers, but the oth­ers decel­er­ated for 3.38 seconds while Greene only slowed down for 0.99 seconds. 

Prendergast con­cludes:

The prac­tic­al les­son from this mod­el for sprint­ers and coaches would seem to be the bene­fit of extend­ing the time of accel­er­a­tion. It is this, rather than raw power out of the blocks, that will res­ult in faster times. It is prob­ably a mat­ter of con­trol. […] It is pos­sible to derive a math­em­at­ic­al mod­el that mod­els a 100m per­form­ance very well. It provides valu­able inform­a­tion on the makeup of the per­form­ance, regard­ing accel­er­a­tion, velo­city, and dis­tance at any stage in the race. It enables us to see the vital ingredi­ents of suc­cess in 100m run­ning, and that the most vital is to accel­er­ate as long as possible.”

Data Points from Usain Bolt

Assuming that the fric­tion between our feet and the ground is con­stant and that run­ning on two feet is giv­en, then a the­or­et­ic­al super­hu­man can run 100 meters between 4,5 to 5 seconds. 

Going any faster is impossible without alter­ing phys­ics.

But here’s the excit­ing part:

Look at the velo­city curve for the world’s fast­est sprint­er, Usain Bolt.

When I looked at break­downs for fam­ous 100-meter sprint­ers over the last 40 years, their aver­age top speeds had­n’t increased much, but Usain Bolt stands out with his max­im­um speed of 12,2 meters per second.

Usain Bolt speed diagram - Acceleration Theory
Usain Bolt’s velo­city at each instant of his gold-medal 100-meter dash in Beijing, 2008. Source: Quanta Magazine.

We can see that Bolt’s speed var­ies dur­ing a 100-meter dash. So, what can we dis­cern from his data points? I looked closely at sev­er­al 100-meter dash finals.

The accel­er­a­tion phase: To accel­er­ate, you must be at an angle with the ground (lean­ing for­ward, push­ing with legs) to be able to push hard against grav­ity.

The top speed phase: Once upright (run­ning tall with as little con­tact with the ground as pos­sible), you can only main­tain speed or decelerate.

Turns out I’ve been wrong about sprint­ing. I always tried to reach my top speed as fast as pos­sible in my sprints. 

The world’s best 100-meter dash sprint­ers can only main­tain their top speeds for 20 – 25 meters. Maurice Green accel­er­ated for an incred­ible 8,69 seconds and kept his top speed for 0,99 seconds.

And what was I doing? I cruised eas­ily at my “top speed” for 75 – 80 meters.


How fast would I have to run at a top speed that I could only sus­tain for no more than 20 – 25 meters? I real­ised that I should try to extend my accel­er­a­tion phase.

Time for a new experiment.

Back to Greenwich Park: New Experiment!

My girl­friend and I went back to Greenwich Park, marked every 10 meters along a 100-meter track, and I made a few test sprints. 

First, I ran as usu­al. I reached my top speed (run­ning tall with as little con­tact with the ground as pos­sible) after about 25 – 30 meters, and I man­aged to keep my speed reas­on­ably well for the remainder of the distance. 

Now, I wanted to extend my accel­er­a­tion time. But for how long? I decided to go for the 60-meter mark. 

I pre­pared myself, and as my girl­friend star­ted the stop­watch, I got off to a good start. As I kept accel­er­at­ing, the strain on my body was immense. At the 30-meter mark, I felt like I was car­ry­ing an ele­phant on my shoulders. At the 40-meter mark, I could not keep accel­er­at­ing for longer.

And as I began clos­ing in on the fin­ish line, my legs and upper body were spent. At 80 – 90 meters, I could feel myself decelerating.

Reaching the fin­ish­ing line felt like an etern­ity. Also, I felt a lot more drag through­out the sprint, almost as if someone had attached a para­chute to my waist, slow­ing me down even further. 

Discouraged, I asked my girl­friend about my time.

Well, Jerry, that was your fast­est 100-meter dash ever,” she said while star­ing at the stop­watch like she could­n’t believe it. “By a margin.”

The Acceleration Theory in Everyday Life

How do you apply the accel­er­a­tion the­ory out­side sprinting?

I began think­ing of every­day ambi­tions as sprints of vari­ous lengths.

The philo­sophy goes like this: First, you work hard on improv­ing. Then, when you hit the 60% mark, you put everything into over­drive — time to fly!

Read also: The Every Day Rule: Manage Your Identity To Achieve More

When work­ing with a cli­ent, I spend 60% of the ini­tial pro­ject scope doing ground­work, ask­ing uncom­fort­able ques­tions, research­ing, pre­par­ing mater­i­al, run­ning tests, etc. While oth­ers start deliv­er­ing res­ults at their lower-end top speeds, I keep accelerating.

I know that by stay­ing uncom­fort­able for longer, I’ll win in the end. Call it “a geek’s approach to life.”

Geeks and repetitive tasks - Acceleration Theory
Geeks and repet­it­ive tasks. Source: Global Nerdy

If a per­son­al pro­ject is planned for 12 months, the 60% mark will occur after 219 days of accel­er­a­tion. If a small task is to be done in 12 minutes, it’s time to fly after 432 seconds of preparation.

If I live health­ily until I’m 85, my life’s 60% mark will occur at 51. Yes, I’m determ­ined to crush it when I get there.

This mind­set keeps me hon­est and hard­work­ing. It reminds me nev­er to stress about being behind in the first half of any­thing. And it motiv­ates me to go for gold like a space rock­et when the accel­er­a­tion phase is done.

Establishing 60% Marks in Life

Based on my insights from Greenwich Park, I think these obser­va­tions have served me well not only in my pub­lic rela­tions career but also in life. 

Here’s how to sum up the accel­er­a­tion theory:

Know what done (100%) looks like. Always know the dis­tance for a par­tic­u­lar under­tak­ing (i.e. the equi­val­ent of know­ing where the fin­ish line will be).

Your focus before the 60% mark. Hunker down and accel­er­ate con­tinu­ously. Never mind about your com­pet­i­tion; focus on the hard work of gain­ing momentum.

Your focus after the 60% mark. Get up straight and main­tain your hard-earned top speed. Be mind­ful of main­tain­ing good form, and don’t try to get back into accel­er­at­ing again.

Here’s how to sum up five straight­for­ward takeaways:

  • Know the length of your race and plan accordingly. 
  • Execute your own race, not some­body else’s.
  • Invest in build­ing your momentum.
  • Be dis­cip­lined and pace yourself.
  • Ignore non-accel­er­at­ing competitors.

And remem­ber: Your com­pet­it­ors are not ahead. They’re just the ones who peaked too soon, wait­ing for you to over­take them.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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