Sprint Training For Distance Runners

Saturday was a killer training day. I had two workouts planned, so I hit the track early for sprints in the morning despite the 24 degree temperatures and the 20+mph wind. You may find this workout is not what you would expect from someone who primarily runs middle distance.  But I hope that it may challenge the way you think about and approach your training.

Workout One: Dedicated Speed Session on the track

It is important to note that this workout took advantage of the high winds. While not the best conditions for distance training, for purposes of this workout the high winds on Saturday worked right into my plan. I did a reverse wave load. I started with heavy resisted sprint starts. Gradually, I worked my way down to lower resistance bands. Finally, I ran into the direction the winds were blowing. This was finished off with a couple final runs wind aided or wind at my back.

Workout Breakdown:

  • One easy mile warmup followed by dynamic warmup drills.
  • Band Resisted Sprints. 2×6 sprint starts with different resistance bands.
  • 30 meters sprints (0.0186 miles, 32.8 yards) x 4. Two into wind followed by two wind aided.
  • 40 meters sprints (0.0249 miles, 43.7 yards) x4 Two into the wind followed by two wind aided.
  • 60 meters sprints (0.0373, 65.6 yards) x4 Two into the wind followed by two wind aided.
  • One easy mile cool down.




The distance runners reading this are probably wondering why I spent so much time doing a dedicated sprint session. I realize I am getting older and as we get older we can slow down. It happens to all of us at some point, sooner for others while later for others. I am always reading about exercise, exercise science, etc. So when I see studies that discuss the very topic of getting older and losing speed I want to know why. I want to know what my enemy is so I can do all I can to attack it.

So now you maybe want to know exactly what makes us run slower as we age? If you look at Master’s sprinters they have less of a falloff in performance than do their Master’s distance counterparts. I have read numerous books and articles by one of favorite strength and condition coaches Mike Boyle. He states and to paraphrase, we do not lose strength as we age so much as we lose power. That is especially true of distance runners.

We can begin to lose fast twitch muscle fibers due to aging. This can start while we are still in our 20’s. These are our quick response fibers that are involved in sprinting, jumping, or doing other explosive movements. You might now be thinking why would losing fast twitch muscle fibers affect endurance runners so much?

I read a quote from author Tim Nokes,MD in his book the Lore of Running He goes on to state “I suspect that the best runners at any longer distance are those who are fastest over distances from 100-800 meters and whose brains and muscles are also highly fatigue resistant.”

I have suspected this might be the case and unknowingly applied this to my own training over the last couple years. In 2015 I ran in the CT Master’s Games. I had no idea what I expect so I signed up for the 50, 100, 200 and 400 meters. I would eventually take a DNS for the 400 meter. I think discretion was the better part of valor since I still had to run the 3000 meters. Yikes! What I was thinking?!

Well I did ok in the 50 and in the 100 actually earning a silver and bronze. I eve ran a fast enough 100 to get listed on Mastersrankings.com at 98th in the US in my age group (cough* 40-44). The 200 I was also not awful placing 88th in the U.S. in my age group (*cough 40-44) but I could see the writing on the wall. I was not a sprinter at this point as much of my training had moved away from the type training that would enhance sprinting. The races were over.  I would be back in 2016 for just the 100 meter dash as my single sprint event as my true focus would be to run a faster 3000 meters even though I would be a full calendar year older.

Over the rest of 2015 and into my 2016 training for the CT Master’s Games, I began to add more sprinting into my training. Sometimes on the beach, other times at the local high school track. If that as being used I would take my sprinting to the steepest hill in my neighborhood. Oh Sasqua how I hate thee!

Fast forward to May 2016. I was ready to take on the 100 again. I really wanted to beat my previous time and go under 14 sec. Sad to say I did not succeed in that regard. However! I did lower my time from 14.50 to now 14:16 that is good for 88th at the time of this writing. That is a jump of ten spots!

The 100 was behind me. Now up was my 3000 meter race. I am sure you are thinking this was a strange double. This was what I truly trained for. As the race began I knew I would start off fast then settle into a different pace. As I would hit the final straightway of each lap I would see the clock on the infield. I was running way ahead of where I thought I might be. I would go on to finish with a much faster time than last year. In 2015 I ran the 3000 in 12:33:15, in 2016 I ran it in 12:01:82! That puts me at 9th this year in the US in my age group at this time.  I do not put those times in to toot my own horn. I do however want to use the Master’sRankings.com results to further make my point.

I fully suspect my 100 meter time could have been higher. I had false started after the sprinter to my left false started and did not want to get disqualified so I stayed in my sprinters crouch just a tad longer to be safe. That is not really relevant. What is relevant though is the fact that my results seem to be a real life summary of the Time Nokes quote above. The extra sprint training paid off.

It sure feels as though the sprinting helped. The results from my races seem to bear that out. I continue to use various sprint type workouts in my own training. I do believe it has helped.  It will never replace tempo runs, threshold runs, long runs, etc. It does though have it’s place in my arsenal. Whether you are a runner or not I think based on what I wrote above and what is contained in the studies linked I hope you see the need to incorporate sprinting, plyometrics, and other explosive type training into your training. I will keep training like a sprinter for the long roads ahead.

Additional Reading, References, Note and Links to Studies:

*I suggest starting off with the shorter distances on the sprints. Especially if you are unaccustomed to sprinting. Sprinting is not the same as the striders many distance runners add to the end of workouts. This may reduce the risk of injury when training like this.