Sprint Training for Distance Runners

Sprint Training – Why?

Long distance running isn’t all about running long distances. The best endurance runners in the world are also lightening fast sprinters. Sprinting should not be the foundation of your training. But doing some sprint training will make you a more rounded and better runner at all distances.

Imagine your body is a machine and your aerobic system is the engine. If the machine is not efficient then it will struggle to convert the engine output, even if you have the most powerful engine in the world. Think cars – engine power doesn’t define speed alone. It is the same with your body. As distance runners, we spend most of our time refining our aerobic engine. Our aerobic capacity.

What about efficiency or ‘running economy’? Elite runners get a lot more oxygen to their muscles (aerobic capacity), but they also use a lot less oxygen at a given pace (running economy). A double whammy.

How do Sprints Help?

How does sprint training help? Go on to the track or a hill and film yourself sprinting flat out. You will find that as you near maximal speed your form looks a lot better. Your legs will push back from the glutes, your legs will fold up behind you almost hitting your backside, and then land beneath your hips. Your arms will pump as they should. You could almost be Mo Farah or Jo Pavey! The faults we notice in our running form start to disappear near 100% velocity. Sprinting trains your muscles to run with proper form and importantly with greater stride length.

More distance per stride = More speed for the same effort = Faster race times

It is neuromuscular as well as purely muscular adaptations we are seeking. We are as much targeting the nervous system as we are the muscle fibres themselves. This is often called muscle memory.  The best running to target this is 100% velocity sprints. That is, as fast as you can run while maintaining control and form. Never run so that you lose control.

The session below targets these neuromuscular adaptations. As well as hitting our anaerobic system to help train that end of race kick! We are all about quality, not quantity here. Short, flat out reps and long long recoveries. The key to making this session give the adaptations we are targeting is the long rest. Your anaerobic system has limited output. It needs time to ‘recharge’ to achieve maximal speed in the next rep.

The Session

We recommend a large dynamic warm up before this session:

– 5 minutes easy running, plus

– 7 minutes at tempo pace, plus

– Drills and Strides

The ‘meat’ of the session:

– 5 x 150m accelerations with 250m jog/walk recovery

– 5 x 200m maximal effort with 200m jog/walk

At least 15 minutes of warm down jogging.

The 150m accelerations are fun. They will accustom you to hitting maximal speed. It may have been many years sine you ran as fast as you can. The repetition is broken into 3 x 50m sections. Start on the apex of the 200m bend (150 from the start/finish line). For the first 50m, wind up the pace so you cross the 100m to-go-mark flat out. Run 50m flat out. With 50m to go, let off the gas a little and cruise across the finish line. Theses accelerations are great for improving neuromuscular efficiency and so running economy.

The 200m maximal efforts are just that. Start at the 200m line and run as fast as you can until the finish line. Just like Usain Bolt! These will hurt more than the 150’s. In fact, with 50m to go your body should start screaming at you. Don’t worry. This is what running at anaerobic intensity is all about. The 200’s are great for running economy and also for training your anaerobic system. A system you will use in the latter stages of races – the kick!

Do this session or a similar session once every 2-3 weeks, especially early in your training cycle. You should start feeling the benefits quickly. Let us know how you get on with your sprint training…