Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Joy of Sprinting

Raise your hand if you hate sprinting? By sprinting, I mean your fastest, craziest, heart-poundingest run complete with flames behind you; the kind of run that might make you double-over, cry and think about vomiting. Do you hate that? You might be surprised to learn that I do not hate sprinting at all. I actually love it.

Sprinters by Sean McSorley

I started off my running life as a sprinter, embarrassing boys on the playground for years, so running fast is really no big deal to me. I don't mind speed work, intervals or even challenging my middle-school students to races. (I'm yet to be beat - thank you very much.) But many people seem to be afraid of sprinting. I suppose it is scary in a lot of ways - you have to push your body to its absolute limit and the only thing that is guaranteed is that you're going to be very uncomfortable in a short amount of time. Let's review the physical responses that you might encounter:
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • lightning bolts
  • fainting
  • panic 
  • numbness in lower extremeties
  • cotton mouth
  • muscles that want to burst through your skin and set themselves on fire
  • severe diarrhea for the remainder of the day 
I hope it is obvious that I am mostly joking. The fact of the matter is that you DO experience some of those things when you fully exert yourself, but duh. The real concern with sprinting is injury - it happens to the best sprinters out there, because sprinting is an extreme sport. Just because you are a great distance runner does not make you a sprinter. If you don't believe that they are totally different sports - please compare the bodies of elite sprinters and endurance runners. I can definitely see the effects of an early life of sprinting in my own build - massive thighs and glutes which are necessary for speed. Those sprinter thighs often get in the way of my distance running, but also help to power it.

Distance vs Sprint Bodies
I'm not saying one is better than the other; I am saying they are very different. The goal is the same (cover a distance in the shortest amount of time = speed,) but the means for achieving the speed is quite different - and the resulting bodies are equally different.

As a former sprinter turned distance runner, I feel like I can comfortably speak to the benefits of adding speed work to your training plan; if you want to increase your race times, you don't have a choice. One of my favorite road workouts is doing alternating block sprint intervals - which is exactly how it sounds. Every other city block is a 90%+ sprint followed by an equal recovery block of 65%-70% - over and over for as long as I can take it. I am certain that I look like a maniac sprinting my hardest down Main Street - but who cares? 

I also like to use ladder workouts on a track (example: 100 x 2, 200 x 2, 400 x 2, 200 x 2, 100 x 2 - all done at top speed.) You can obviously change the number of repeats and distances to meet your specific needs. 

Also - marathoners - you are surely doing Yasso 800s, but if you're not - get on it! This is a really common and effective speed workout for those that go the looonng distance.

Keeping the Pace from OutdoorSportsArt
I think everyone should build one down and dirty speed workout into their week. Not only will you increase your speed, but you will gain confidence in your running. When you sprint, you are pushing your body's limit to its max - and that makes you improve, makes you strong, makes you confident in your ability. 
Speed = Strength

Finally - there is a primal, animalistic factor in running your fastest (fight or FLIGHT.) You will feel like a hardcore runner - practically an Olympian - as you pound down the road. Picture it now: wind in your hair, arms chopping, knees high and a face that says: do not mess with me 'cause I'm crazy fast. Have you ever seen a sprinter smiling? No. Never. Intensity only. All of that ass kickin' will leave with a glorious runner's high and your stress...well...what stress? 




  1. I don't know if I've thought about it like that before but you're right. I think I'm AFRAID to sprint because it hurts. lol

  2. I both love and hate speed work. I love how badass I feel sprinting (it's easy to think you're an action hero running away from an explosion or something), but I hate that burning lung/leg/body feeling!

  3. I like sprinting - makes a nice change from all that long distance stuff - but I suck at it. The shorter the distance, the worse I am. When I reach that point that I feel my legs are completely out of control and I'm about to end up sprawled on the track, I lose it.

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