Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

Can Sprinters Run Long Distance?

long distance running

Can sprinters run long distance?

The visitors question was from a female high school athlete who wanted a workout plan for a sprinter interested in getting stronger for long distance.

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

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

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.

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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:

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 anaerobic athletes.

Anaerobic simply means you are operating at a much higher physiological level and with less oxygen.

If you go out on a leisurely stroll 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.

Be Patient

The best athletes know great results don't come overnight. So, continue to focus on being that aerobic base of mileage first. Then, focus on the faster segments of your build up.

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

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 is easy. The sprinter is already motivated. In addition, has the explosiveness. So, we now are going to focus on building endurance and running longer.

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.

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

Build Gradually

Start consistently jogging easy miles for at least 4 to 8 weeks.

Sprinters have have a muscular build on both the upper and lower body and leg areas. So, focus on form and doing strides as you gain fitness.

This is normally done through routines which consist of skipping, moving the knees up and down and swinging the arms from side to side.

Also, keeping 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 focus on form and speed.

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. So, you have to lift your knees like a sprinter when you are already physiologically taxed.

Focus on Recovery After Hard Workouts

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.

Focus more on slow running and training adaptation first. Then, move into more speed specific training. Remember, long-term thinking breeds successful results.

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.

Can running more mileage help a sprinter? I think so. I am an endurance athlete myself. That being said, sprinters have to have a great deal of anaerobic endurance. So, adding in base mileage is only going to make these athletes stronger.

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

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.

Long distance running and sprinting are two vastly different sports so lengthening the distance you run at just under maximum 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.

Closing Thoughts

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • add in some fartlek workouts
  • Don't overthink. You are a sprinter but that doesn't mean you can't be a success at longer races.
  • Still focus on your form but stay relaxed while running

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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