Posted by Steve Magness
Part 1- Sprint Training for Distance Runners
Part 2- Practical application
It's been a while since I posted a blog, so sorry about that. Training has been going pretty well now. I've had some hamstring problems so no real racing unfortunately. I was going to give it a go at Georgia Tech but the hamstring wouldn't fully loosen up before the race (I think because I warmed up, then there was a rain delay and sat around for an hour+, then warmed up again), so better safe than sorry.
The good news is that I've been able to train fine and am rounding into good shape.
A topic that has come up a lot lately is sprint training for distance runners. A recent flotrack workout wednesday (here) and Jay Johnson's blog (here) are two recent video's showing distance athletes doing pure speed work. I thought I'd throw in my two cents.
Sprint training for distance runners is essential, but few coaches utlize it. The reason given is usually injury concerns, but, like almost everything, when done correctly the injury risk is relatively low. What are the actual benefits to sprint training for distance runners?
One of the most important is in terms of muscle fiber recruitment. Sprinting is one of the only ways in which a distance runner is going to recruit a very large amount of his harder to recruit FT fibers. Why is this important? Because in learning how to recruit these muscle fibers, you are increasing the recruitable fiber pool. Having those fibers available to jump in and do some of the work when those ST fibers are being overwhelmed will help an athlete sustain his pace for slightly longer. Secondly, it allows for the athlete to more easily recruit these fibers at the end of a race when it is time to kick. Lastly, a distance runner rarely stresses his CNS to such a high degree in such a short term. Since, everything begins and ends in the brain and CNS, doing some work to deal with a high stress on the CNS could help with central fatigue.
Besides the muscle recruitment aspects of sprinting, there are mechanical benefits too. Sprinting provides an excellent platform to work on and improve running mechanics. You will find few athletes who sprint while landing on their heel like many do during distance running, so translating the mechanics of sprinting while landing (more) correctly to distance running can be done. Also, sprint training can also improve the bodies elastic energy storage and return system. The body will become better at stiffening the lower leg upon impact, thus improving energy storage and return. In addition, sprinting can improve ground contact time for distance runners.
Lastly, when building a base we generally think only in terms of aerobic running. However, a base is the foundation on which we build more specific work on. An aerobic base allows a runner to complete workouts that are more directly connected to his race that he wouldn't be able to complete if he had no foundation. Running lots of easy runs builds the foundation for doing higher end aerobic workouts such as thresholds or 10k pace work. Similarly, it allows for a higher volume of running, in terms of miles per week, and during workouts (a runner can handle 6x800 at 3200 pace instead of 4x800 for example).
A mechanical or neuromuscular base is also needed. Pure speed work provides the foundation on which to build upwards towards race specificity. It provides a mechanical foundation in terms of good running mechanics, and a neuromuscular base in terms of the muscle recruitment mentioned above. With a base of pure speed work, you can then translate that into speed endurance, and then finally into anaerobic speed endurance. In terms of workouts, the 6x60m sprints you do now, allows for translation of that into 6x150m speed endurance session, which finally leads into some 300's at quick speeds that may serve as anaerobic speed endurance for an 800m or 1500m runner. Without that initial base of pure speed work, those 300's which are essential for the 800m or 1500m runner, won't be as effective.
Next, I'll go into detail about how to implement pure speed training for distance runners.
Edit: Also, I'll delve a little into overspeed or assisted sprinting like that shown in the Bungee video on Flotrack or that done by running downhill. I'm not a big fan of bungee sprinting, but more on that next time.
Go to Part 2:
Part 2- Practical application