Long to Short/Short to Long: What we can learn from Sprinters regarding base building:
For the endurance people reading this, you might not be familiar with what the title means. In sprint training, there is a constant debate over whether a long to short or a short to long program is best. A long to short program is one that starts with longer work and progresses downwards as the season progresses. A short to long program is essentially the opposite, starting with very short speed/acceleration work and extending it as the season progresses.
A quick example of a long to short program would be that of Lashawn Merritt’s coach Dwayne Miller, which can be found here (http://bit.ly/4rpAlK). As you can see, he starts with longer stuff (2mi runs) and progresses all the way down to 30.40.50m sprints. On the other hand an example of a short to long program would be that of David Lease (coach of Jason Gardner). The focus from the beginning is very short sprint/acceleration work that gradually gets longer, to a point.
Over the past couple weeks I’ve spent a good deal of time reading about sprint training and listening to some of the excellent audio interviews with sprint coaches on the athletics Canada and UK coaching websites. It’s really interesting to see training from a different perspective. One thing coaches need to be cautious about when venturing into new event areas is forgetting that critical eye that we’ve developed in our own areas, that hasn’t been quiet developed for the new area of interest. When you don’t have that critical eye, it’s easy to accept everything you hear as absolute truth because it sounds good. However, just like in the endurance area, there are many different successful coaches with many different philosophies on training/biomechanics/etc. This is another topic, but I’ve seen several distance coaches pick up sprint training/biomechanics only to partially grasp the concepts, thus not really applying it very well their athletes.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a heavy sprint influence in my own coaching. The two biggest influences on my coaching both come from a sprint background. One is obvious and that is Tom Tellez, the legendary sprint coach. The other is my old HS distance coach, Gerald Stewart, who did not start coaching distance until my sophomore year in HS. For 20 or so years before that he’d been a sprint/field coach, and a successful one (coached a HS sprinter to 10.28 FAT). All that being said, I think it gives me a decent perspective on looking at sprint training from an endurance perspective.
This brings us back to the topic first introduced, what’s better a short to long or long to short program. Both have worked equally well in producing great 100-400m runners. My contention is, why is it an either/or thing?
From an endurance perspective, we all know the importance of a base. The endurance work we do allows for more specific work to be done and for the athlete to be able to better absorb that work. Improvement generally comes with being able to handle more amount of specific work. Longer work provides the body structural and metabolic improvements which allow it to handle more work. For example, the ability to restore Creatine Phosphate is reliant on a strong aerobic system, as is the ability to clear lactate, Hydrogen+, etc. The quicker the body can return to normal, the more work can be done before hitting fatigue.
On the other hand, it doesn’t quite make sense to develop specific speed endurance before developing speed. How do you extend the speed if it is not already developed? Developing speed endurance is essentially about extending the speed that is developed. So, having a foundation of speed to extend is essential.
Without dragging this on for too long, does it not make sense to do some pure sprint work, 20-30m flys or even 30m starts, near the beginning of the training, while at the same time doing some longer distance work? The takeaway message is perhaps an extremes to specificity model might provide the best of both worlds. An endurance base is converted downwards as it gets more and more specific, while a speed base is extended. Why does it have to be either/or?
What this means for you an endurance coach is to rethink your definition of a base. A base is traditionally thought of as only aerobic mileage. We are covered when progressing downwards to intervals after our endurance base, but we’re not covered on the speed side. A base also needs to be developed neurally, biomechanically, and structurally. A base is preparing the athlete for the training that needs to be done. A multifaceted base including work done to develop general endurance, pure speed, structural integrity, and good biomechanics better sets the stage for continued progression than one of just easy to moderate endurance work.
In practical terms what does this look like? A sample week below for an early base period for HS distance runners doing 60mi per week:
Monday- 7mi Moderate progression run (easy gradual progression down to threshold)
Tuesday- 10mi of easy distance running
Wednesday- 3x60m, 3x100m sprints, full recovery, distance run in morning
Thursday- 10mi of easy distance running
Friday- General Strength Endurance circuit, consisting of:
Do 3x with 5min rest b/t
Saturday- Long run-11-13mi
Monday- 20min threshold run split up (12min, 2easy, 8min for example)
Tuesday- Easy distance
Wed-8x8second Hill sprints, full recovery
Thursday- Easy distance
Friday- Easy run with 8x30sec at goal race pace in the middle w/ 2:30 easy after
Saturday- 12mi Long run w/ slight pickup the last mile
With the above 2wk schedule, you have a lot of general endurance with some touching on high end aerobic running in the progression run. Sprint work forms the base of speed, neural work, and biomechanics. The general strength work provides a base of strength and structural support, and the long run provides some general strength endurance. The pace work is easy, yet provides a transition into specific endurance and extending that in later periods.