Can sprinters run long distance?

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long distance runningCan sprinters run long distance

I promised a visitor to that I would write a post about a question she had sent me.

Can sprinters run long distance?

This site mainly revolves around mid to long distance runners but what does a sprinter do if he or she wants to transition from sprinting and grasp a training mindset geared more toward long distance running?

The visitors question was from a female high school athlete who wanted a workout plan for a sprinter looking to develop a more solid base and/or getting more into distance running.

The best advice that I can give in regards to moving from sprinting to long distance running is looking at it with a long-term training approach.

We are a goal driven society, other cultures do not work in the same manner. Lifestyles are much slower and everything is not always rushed as it is here in America.

Athletics, in this case sprinting and distance running demand a high level of commitment and dedication but the flaw in performances sometimes also stems from these two characteristics.

Do or do not… there is no try.- Yoda

I am, by all means, not a sprinter but I do have some background with speed-oriented training.

I have always appreciated the finesse of the great sprinters like Florence Griffin Joyner who still holds the female world-record of 10.49 for the 100m.

The great sprinters from Jesse Owens to the current world record holder for the 100-200m events, Usain Bolt, have always had my attention.

I have been fascinated with sprinting since I began running back in 1992.

A sprinters mind is focusing on the start and smooth exhilaration into the finish line, whereas a long distance athlete (depending on goals) mindset is more geared toward maintaining goal pace for a longer period of time.

You are going from a race focusing on pure speed tactics and execution,  to one where endurance is the full area of concentration.

That being said, having a high school sprinter who also wants to attend a US military academy no less, wanting a plan to assist her toward long distance running is a question I do not get that often.

A few tips I can share to build a work out plan for a sprinter wanting to build a base and move more into distance training are these:

#1 Build From Where You Currently Are

Sprinters are already ahead of the game in that they have already built a great deal of anaerobic (without oxygen) strength as compared to someone just starting an exercise routine and this will be something I touch on in future posts.

However, sprinters are notorious for being anerobic athletes. Anerobic simply means you are operating at a much higher physiological level and with less oxygen.

If you go out on a leisurely stroll with your spouse or a friend and can chat, you are running aerobically (with oxygen).  I know this athlete is already a high intensity track and field sprinter so we have to switch from a sprinter to a long distance runner mindset.

How can this be executed in a successful manner?

One thing I have learned from being here is that our culture, our push for instant results and immediate success, is drastically different from cultures such as Afghanistan.

The same holds true in races. Slow down and don’t be in such a rush for results.

I build lead generation sites for business owners like tree removal seguin and it is much like running.

You dont get to the top in google overnight and you don’t get to the top in your fitness overnight either.

You stay patient, focus on building fitness and executing your workout plan…the results are going to fall in your lap.

Transitioning from sprinting to long distance running takes that latter mindset of slowing down and looking at your preparation in a more low-key, long term approach.

Explosiveness is not the objective in distance running so a sprinter has to look at it in a walk-crawl-run way, at least starting out.

Their engine has already been built, which makes someone wanting to go from that high level, fast paced form of running to a slower, but sustained event all the more successful in transitioning to longer events.

I have know many sprinters who learned to love long distance running over the years which brings me to my second tip

#2 Start slow and gradually build a larger base

I would suggest for a sprinter wanting to build a larger, endurance-centered regimen to start consistently jogging easy miles for at least 4 to 8 weeks.

If you look at the build of both male and female sprint athletes, you will see that they have a muscular build on both the upper and lower body and leg areas.

This is normally done through routines which consist of skipping, moving the knees up and down and swinging the arms from side to side and also usually involves some cardiovascular work involving weights, in order to keep the body and leg muscles toned, strong and for better overall flexibility.

A sprinter is a technique oriented, explosive athlete so doing strides at the end of longer runs would be a great way to build on top of the speed they already possess and increase their overall distance fitness.

One of the workouts I did while training in Colorado Springs was finishing long runs with 8x200m on the roads. You are already exhausted from the long run (this was a 20-miler), then you have to lift your knees like a sprinter when you are already physiologically taxed.

In addition, you have no glycogen stores left and are asking your body to utilize fat as its energy source. Sprinting success demands carbohydrates, long distance success involves learning to teach your body to use fat as its main fuel source and conserve carbohydrates.

As you build strength from running easy miles and gearing away from the sprinter mindset of getting out of the blocks and focusing more on slow running and training adaptation you can do nothing but become a distance runner.

#3 Run Consistent Mileage

That being said, it surely shouldn’t be a rush to get into fitness and high school athletes are nowhere near their prime. I was running 30-40 miles a week, if that, while in high school and ran the mile and two-mile events.

I never saw our sprinters focus too much on building base mileage, and at that age, serious training to become an elite athlete (unless that is your goal), should not be emphasized to a great extent.

Can running more mileage help a sprinter? I think so, I am an endurance athlete but sprinters have to have a great deal of anerobic endurance, adding in base mileage is only going to make their already built up engine that much more powerful.

They are operating on a shorter amount of time but at a much higher physiological level for the 10-70 seconds they are racing.

This athlete wanting to go the complete opposite way and go from sprinting to long distance running so is already light years ahead of someone just starting a running program in terms of overall fitness.

rundreamachieveWe talk about being ‘economical’ when we run. It simply means running as relaxed and effective as you can be it an easy run or a race.

Building a strong foundation is going to create that economical state we all seek as runners.

 Helpful Suggestions

The fact that this athlete is at the high school level about to graduate to the collegiate ranks is helpful.

The great thing about distance running is you can start at anytime, regardless if you are a sprinter, play another sport and want to get involved in a totally new sport.

The name of the game with distance running is sustained effort and minimizing the slow down mid-race.  The sprinter has this down already, only in a much shorter (but MUCH higher intensity) event.

Long distance running and sprinting are two vastly different sports so lengthening the distance you run at a submaximal effort is where you need to draw your attention to.

You still need to focus on sprinting even with longer races because in most cases you will still have the ability to sprint at near maximal effort at the end of a marathon.

Speed should never be neglected.

I had to sprint all-out for about 200 meters at the end of the 2011 Monumental Indianapolis Marathon to hold 5th place, which was the last $ position (see photo on right sidebar).

I have never had to kick as hard as I did at the end of that race and had to rely on my speed. I am certainly not a sprinter but ran 53.03 for 400m in high school as a 1600m/3200m athlete.

The young lady that wrote me already has speed she can use to her advantage as she transitions over to longer races.

So What Workouts/Suggestions Can Help Someone  To Become a Long Distance Runner?

  • Focus on building mileage and staying consistent. Incorporate 6-8x100m strides 3 times a week at the end of your easy runs
  • Gradually add additional runs to your weekly training rhythm. I don’t expect a sprinter t0 start running 7 days a week and running 50-100 miles in those 7 days but maintaining motivation and slowly increasing mileage is key.
  • As you build up your mileage base gradually increase the pace of 1 or two of your runs during the week.
  • Incorporate one day out of the week devoted to building your endurance. You can start at 5 miles as your long run and build up to 8, then 10 etc.
  • Once you have 4-8 weeks of easy mileage built up (not focusing on anything other then general cardiovascular fitness) add in some fartlek workouts (this could be 5x1min hard/easy for starters then moving to 20×1 min hard/1 min easy later on
  • Don’t overthink. A trap ALL runners fall prey to. You are a sprinter but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a success at longer races.
  • Still focus on form but stay relaxed, drop your shoulders, relax your face (a trick I have used for years) as it will assist your body in staying relaxed as well
  • If doing track workouts…instead of doing 10×60 meter sprints try doing 8x400m. Don’t worry about paces early on..see how it feels and adjust the training as you go.

In closing, I hope some of this post has given you an introduction in moving from a sprinting to a long distance mindset.

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