Updated: Nov 18, 2021
“Running and Sprinting are quite similar”
The How of Running and Sprinting
Running is pretty simple. Just put one foot in front of the other until you reach your destination or the Finish Line! And there’s only two things that influence how quickly you get there : stride length and cadence (steps per minute). And it’s the same for sprinting, the only real difference being the velocity. Both running and sprinting involve accelerating from rest, reaching some optimal speed and then maintaining it or minimising the slowing as the race progresses. And perhaps that might seem surprising but all sprinters slow after reaching ~50m so they are managing energy and effort levels, as would an ultra-runner, but maybe not with a gel! Because it’s only possible to maintain physically maximum velocity for 1 to 2 seconds.
Training for Sprinting and Running
It might surprise the pure endurance runners that sprinters do similar types of training sessions to endurance runners. Sprinters do interval training, hill sprints and a session often focusing on technique. They also supplement that with resistance training, e.g. weight training, as this builds strength which can help increase cadence and/or stride length. All runners and sprinters should include core training, whether through Pilates, Yoga or a gym core class, as a strong core is needed to stabilise the body when the legs are driving the runner/sprinter forwards.
Interval training for sprinters is about building running strength, although the focus is mainly on muscular strength, rather than the cardio-vascular system, although it can feel pretty similar! Cardio fitness is required for sprinters as most race meetings will involve sprinters running more than one race, whether that be heats, semis, or multiple events. So, the ability to recover quickly is important and interval sessions enable that. Some of the sessions have efforts very similar to endurance runners, e.g. 600m repetitions. Hill sessions are about running up an incline to improve strength and importantly the technique of running, bringing the legs through correctly to minimise rotation and loss of efficiency or speed – just the same as for Endurance runners.
Sprinters will also use mini hurdles to help with technique, and as you can see, I need help with my technique!.
Prior to sprinting sessions, sprinters will do drills, many more than most endurance runners, although all runners should do them to get the body moving in the correct form for the session itself.
Strength training including mobility (controlled flexibility) requires strong stabilising muscles, e.g. core, and all runners and sprinters should spend time doing such exercises, as suggested above, as it also helps the body move correctly improving technique. I do quite a bit of conditioning and speed strength specific training, in addition to the usual stretches. Also, to help with recovery from sessions, a sports massage is effective, and I have found this is more important with sprinting.
Sprint and Running Races
Obviously sprint races take place on a track, whereas most endurance races, Cirencester AC runners compete in, do not; although there have been events that do use tracks, some lasting hours! Most endurance races nowadays for us are on roads, trails or cross-country (i.e. through the mud!). I have competed / trained on three different tracks: Swindon’s track obviously, two open meetings at Prince of Wales stadium in Cheltenham and once in a Vets event on the track at Horspath, Oxford (which has 10 lanes in the straight!).
Tracks do help you run fast but can be slightly slippery during and following rain and I have found that even at my speeds, that the bends can be a little “iffy” during the autumn.
Different surfaces require different footwear to be effective and that is true for sprinting. Because of the acceleration and forces generated in sprinting you need to really stick to the track and spikes are essential. I use middle distance track spikes (see first picture), as my coach, Howard Moscrop, suggested that, at my age (and he should know – he’s older than me!), I probably will not be able to keep my heels off the track all the way and so the small padding on the heel helps protect my heel bone and ankles. Similarly, endurance runners will train in “ordinary running trainers” but race in lightweight racing shoes, or really expensive shoes with carbon plates and two-inch thick platform heels!!
I do most of my warm up routine (that makes it sound like I know what I am doing!) in a pair of lightweight trainers, changing to track spikes for the last bit (I usually practice starts, and the spikes bite into the surface better enabling greater purchase) and then keeping them on for the efforts, changing back to the trainers for the cool down and stretching.
Injuries from Poor Technique
Whatever distance and speed one runs, there is a risk of injury. It doesn’t matter whether one is running or sprinting, eventually poor technique will catch one out.
Often, sprinting results in acute injuries, and we’ve all seen the video of Derek Redmond’s 400m race at the Barcelona Olympics, where he pulled his hamstring, being helped over the line by his dad; whereas endurance runners’ injuries are more likely to be chronic, and dare I say, often from changing the training regime too fast, whether by increasing the intensity or the distance, or both. How many of us have suffered an injury a month to a fortnight before a big race? The reason for the difference in injury cause is mainly due to the difference in the forces involved in sprinting compared to running. Therefore, training should involve focusing on technique, getting the biomechanics right. We may talk about ‘runners’ style’ but variance from the “standard model” for running or sprinting results in loadings on parts of the body that will in time cause injury, or we run within our constraints, consciously or subconsciously. In sprinting, one is just likely to get hurt sooner.
Unfortunately, as for endurance runners, chronic overload, due to not recovering properly, can result in injury doing sprinting, and that’s how I got a sore Achilles : two sprint races (100m and 200m) on a Saturday followed by a speed session on a Tuesday (300m efforts), which at my time of life I have found is too much. It would have been ok if I was the age of my fellow sprinters at Swindon Harriers, some of whom are less than a third of my age!!!
Next time, I will describe the differences between sprinting and endurance running and what that has meant to me, so you'll know what to expect if you choose to do something similar.