Need to know how to run faster? While sprint workouts don’t make a runner, when they’re added to typical training, they offer a boost in building strength, developing good form and recruiting muscles efficiently – all of which pay off, even if you’re running 42.2 kilometres.
Classic VO2 max workouts with repeats lasting three to five minutes should remain a marathoner’s first priority, along with tempo runs and mileage. But when you’re ready to progress, don’t focus only on pushing toward longer workouts. Explore the very short end of the spectrum with sprints as short as 50 metres in addition to, rather than as a replacement for, the longer reps you’re used to. It might just give you the edge you’ve been looking for.
There are many different ways of incorporating short repeats into your training. These 3 are worth the extra effort.
SHORT: FOR SPEED ENDURANCE
Distance: 150 to 300 metres
Why: Put simply, the goal here is to remember how to move your legs quickly, and to make your usual race pace seem slow by comparison. You’ll get the most out of these workouts by doing them on tired legs, which will simulate the challenge of running fast late in a race and allow you to slip them in as an extra workout after a previously scheduled run.
How: One approach is to do a tempo run of six to 10 kilometres, then finish with 5 × 300 metres on the track with 90 seconds rest. The effort should be hard enough that you struggle to maintain pace toward the end of each repeat. Or, to really up the ante do a set of 6 to 8 x 200-metre repeats after a 60- to 90-minute run.
SHORTER: FOR EFFICIENCY
Distance: 80 to 150 metres
Why: Sloppy running form is more pronounced when you’re jogging. When you speed up, your body automatically adjusts to sprint more efficiently: You’ll push off more powerfully with each stride, and reduce up-and-down and side-to-side oscillation. With practice, these habits will become ingrained even at slower paces. Practice striding at 90 per cent effort, feeling fast but not all-out. Focus on keeping your arms and face relaxed.
How: Once or twice a week after an easy run, do six 100-metre strides on a flat, smooth surface. Alternate between steady 90 per cent efforts and accelerations that start a little easier but finish a little harder. Walk back to recover: You shouldn’t be out of breath when you begin the next one.
SHORTEST: FOR POWER
Distance: 50 to 100 metres
Why: Full-on sprinting teaches your brain to recruit a full range of muscle fibres, including fast-twitch fibres that get neglected during typical long-distance training. These sprints are the running equivalent of power lifting, so a thorough warm-up of at least 15 minutes is essential.
How: The safest way to start is with uphill sprints, which put less stress on your legs than running all-out on flat ground. Start with two sprints lasting six to eight seconds up a four- to six-per-cent grade, taking a full 2:00 between them. Do the workout once a week, adding two reps each time until you hit 10, and gradually lengthening the sprints to 10 to 12 seconds. When that feels comfortable, try less steep hills, and then flat ground.