Many distance runners do not do any speed work that forces them to run at maximum effort or close to maximum. They go through their runs every day running the same pace or they may throw in a tempo run or an interval workout where they run 5k pace or a little faster.
Those workouts are great and will help you become a better runner. But why are distance runners typically afraid of other types of workouts or endurance activities, like triathlon training or sprinting? Both can benefit your running dramatically. Without sprinting, your training is incomplete.
Sprinting offers distance runners many key benefits that they can use to race faster in longer races like 5k’s and even marathons. But that’s not all.
What are the benefits of sprinting for a distance runner?
Sprinting forces your body to run more efficiently. By practicing to run at your maximum speed, your mile, 5k, or half-marathon race pace will seem much slower because your body has adapted. Sprinting creates neuromuscular efficiency that teaches your muscles how to move correctly.
Sprinting also recruits all of your muscle fibers, rather than just some of them like when you’re running slower. By recruiting all of your muscle fibers in an intense, 100% effort sprint you’re making your leg muscles work harder and get stronger. This strength will help protect you from injury.
Running at your maximum effort jacks up your heart rate, recruits all of your leg’s muscle fibers, and requires more coordination. If you’re frustrated because you can’t lose those last few stubborn pounds, it might be because your training is lacking intensity. Include some sprints into your training and you’ll burn more calories during the workout and increase your metabolism for hours afterward.
Incorporating Sprint Workouts into Your Training
I have three favorite “mini-workouts” that I like to do almost every week that help me make sprinting a priority. Even though my own personal goals are road races from 5k – half-marathon right now, sprinting at max effort is an important part of my training. Let’s look at the workouts:
These are simple and are done after a normal distance run. Preferably on a track, artificial turf field, or grass (but you can do them anywhere), the entire stride is about 100 meters. Start running at a normal pace and accelerate into a full sprint right before the halfway point. Hold your sprint for about 20 meters, then slow down to a walk. Take about a minute of walking recovery (these should not be hard) and start your next one. I like to do 4-6 strides.
Bonus: Do your strides barefoot.
These are also simple and are done during the last 10-15 minutes of your run. They can last anywhere from 15 – 30 seconds depending on your fitness level and how hard you want to make them. Essentially a very short and fast fartlek, mid-run surges are like strides except harder. After your first surge, you continue running at your normal distance run pace for 30 seconds to 1 minute and then start your next one.
I like to do 4-6 surges during the last mile or two of my distance runs. Right now I’m doing 5×20″at my max speed with about a minute of slow running in between each one.
Bonus: On a hilly route, make sure your surges are uphill.
Hill sprints are the fastest (and most fun!) of all these sprint workouts. Find the steepest hill you can and start with 1 or 2 sprints of 8 seconds long. These are done at 100%, maximum effort – be like Usain Bolt!
After 4-5 days, you’re ready to start your next session. Add 1-2 repetitions until you reach 8-10 hill sprints, then you can start increasing their length from 8 seconds to 10 or 12. Take a full 1-2 minutes of walking recovery between each one and always err on the side of too much rest. Right now I’m up to 5 x 10 second hill sprints.
By implementing some short sprint workouts into your otherwise monotonous distance runs, you’ll increase your running economy and ultimately become a faster runner. Hill sprints are also a very powerful tool for injury prevention, as they recruit all of your leg muscles and are like running-specific weight lifting.