Five Lessons Learned From Alberto Salazar

The ability to sprint is a major key to Mo Farah's success. Photo: PhotoRun.net

4. Learn how to sprint

Yes, like Usain Bolt. While sprinting isn’t going to compromise a majority of a distance runner’s training, it’s worth paying some attention to every week. If you watch some of the best distance runners in the world in slow motion their mechanics aren’t too different from their top sprinting counterparts – they’re relaxed from the face on down, landing under their center of gravity, driving their knees, wasting very little time in the air, and covering ground quickly and efficiently.

Over the last lap of the 10,000-meter final at the Olympics, Farah sprinted away from the rest of the field to capture the first of his two gold medals. Rupp wasn’t far behind. This wasn’t my accident. Sprinting, or speed development, has been a key part of Farah and Rupp’s training program. Why? At the top level of the sport, particularly in championship races, an athlete needs to be able to close hard off any pace. For the citizen runner, possessing the ability to kick over the last quarter mile of a race can be the difference between an age-group award and hoping to win a raffle prize.

Aside from being able to finish fast, however, the main purpose of sprinting or speed development workouts for distance runners is to recruit muscle fibers that aren’t relied upon in traditional workouts such as VO2 max intervals, tempo runs and the like, which will improve your power and explosiveness while helping your stride become more fluid. Improving your sprinting ability enhances the effectiveness of all the other types of workouts you’ll do, allowing you to run faster and longer more efficiently.

How can you incorporate sprint workouts into your training schedule? Here are three effective recommendations:

* Short Hill Sprints: Once or twice a week insert a set of 4 to 10 short, steep hill sprints (8-12 seconds in length) into your training schedule. Run these repeats at near max effort with full recovery in between repeats. This is what I call a muscle workout, not a specific fitness-building workout, designed to recruit fastwitch muscle fibers, strengthen your lower legs, increase explosiveness as well as help you become more injury resistant. It’s best to do these after an easy run on the day before some of your more traditional speed workouts.

* Short Flat Sprints: After 4 to 6 weeks of including short hill sprints into your training, transition to sprinting over flat ground. The same principles apply: 4 to 10 sprints of 8-12 seconds in duration at near max effort with full recovery between intervals. Warm up with 4 to 6 x 150m strides to get loose and lessen likelihood of injury. Be sure to keep the basic tenets of good running form in mind while running relaxed and staying in control of your stride.

* Practice Kicking: Upon completion of a more traditional training session such as long intervals or a tempo run, tack on a 4 to 6 repeats ranging from 100 to 400m in length at near full speed. This is an effective way to practice sprinting while tired, which is what you’ll need to do at the end of a race. This is a more demanding race-simulation type of workout than either of the aforementioned sessions, so be careful and use sparingly in order to avoid injury. Once a week is more than enough.

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