In a race, when the front runner exhausted himself and thus suffers from a sudden and rather strong decrease of speed before reaching the finish line (often being overtaken by the runner-up as a result), how do you call that?

Specifically, what verb do you use to describe that?

to slump? to slack off? to fade? to disintegrate? ...

By the way, I'm not looking for "to collapse"; the runner will still cross the finish line... :)

  • I asked this question on a bilingual (de-en) board as well, and people there also suggested "to slump" and "his performance (suddenly) disintegrated". Thoughts?
    – Christian
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 9:20

5 Answers 5


I like fade. So does NOAD:

fade (verb) [of a racehorse, runner, etc.] lose strength or drop back, esp. after a promising start : she faded near the finish.

Incidentally, my first thought was collapse, until you added your stipulation. The word collapse is often used in team sports to describe a team that doesn't finish in first place – especially when they had led in the standings for much of the season (examples here). However, in a footrace, collapse usually has a different meaning, as you point out.

  • 3
    My first thought was falter.
    – user230
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 12:18
  • 1
    @snail - falter would work, too. It would work especially well in cases of a muscle pull, when the runner not only slows down, but also loses stride.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 21, 2014 at 12:40
  • To me "to fade" sounds a bit like the runner is slowly losing speed, not abruptly, though?
    – Christian
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 9:18
  • @Christian - For the most part, yes. That's probably how I would envision it.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 9:20

If the front-runner deliberately loses speed, it might be called 'easing-up' or 'cruising'. This often happens in the first round or even a semi-final, when runners are trying to conserve their energy for the final.


I would use some form of run out of steam:

The runner ran out of steam.
I have been working very hard but now I am running out of steam.

According to this link Run out of steam the phrase was originally used back in steam engine days.


A runner who exhausts the energy supplies in their liver and muscles is said to hit the wall.



1 a : to walk unsteadily : stumble · the . . . stranger falters out of the thicket and drops to his knees —Dudley Fitts

1 b : to give way : totter· could feel my legs faltering

1 c : to move waveringly or hesitatingly· forced to bail out of faltering airplanes over the Alps —Nat'l Geographic

3 a : to hesitate in purpose or action : waver· he never faltered in his determination

3 b : to lose drive or effectiveness · the business was faltering

to stop being strong or successful : to begin to fail or weaken
to begin to walk or move in an unsteady way

Her steps began to falter.

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