Highlighting Acceleration Training For Distance Runners

By Robert Marchetti - RobertMarchetti221@hotmail.com

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When David Rudisha won the 2015 IAAF World Championships title in the 800m, he covered his last 100m in 12 seconds. His world record run in 2012 contained a 200m split of 23.2 seconds.

In Matt Centrowitz's Olympic gold medal-winning performance for 1500m, he ran the last 300m in 38 seconds. And even in a race as long as the 5K, Britain's Mo Farah has had performances where he's gone 51 seconds for his last lap.

So at times, the successful middle and long distance runner must be able to sprint at fairly high velocities in order to be a complete racer. And in order to run fast, one must be able to accelerate.

Nearly every event in track and field involves a sprinting component. Whether it be an approach in a jumping event, a specific leg of a relay race, navigating between the hurdles, running with a pole, or a javelin thrower's run-up, there is a necessity for athletes to accelerate with power and efficiency at some point during competition.

In distance running, switching gears to either take a lead or attack in the final kick demands a pick-up in pace -- which can ultimately make the difference between winning or losing. 

The simplest way to increase one's acceleration capacity is to do sprinting itself. While the percentage of velocity training for a distance runner isn't as high of a priority as compared to a sprinter or jumper, it does need to exist to some extent. And the downside to ignoring sprint training is unpreparedness -- the lack of an ability to make a move in a competition.

Many successful distance programs implement some acceleration work in a weekly plan.

For example, coach Aaron Oldfield's program at Hopewell Valley Central High School in New Jersey has won multiple state team championships and individual titles over the past 20 years. A typical Monday practice would include distance runners doing a short sprint workout on the straightaway at the end of practice, or after a distance run. The group does six fast accelerations down the straightaway at 6x30-50m.

The workout is done once per week. Oldfield says he feels it's enough to prepare them for that critical juncture in a race: to make a move when they need to do so.

SOME SUGGESTED GUIDELINES FOR ACCELERATION DEVELOPMENT WITH DISTANCE RUNNERS

  • Use a moving start -- For distance runners, their ability to accelerate during races comes while on the move. Therefore, using a jog-in start is most specific. The runner positioned 10m back from the starting line jogs toward it and once they reach the line, they take off and aggressively accelerate away. This not only develops velocity, but it also trains the body's ability to shift gears.
  • Sprint an appropriate distance -- Most athletes cannot accelerate during a sprint for more than five to six seconds. So sprints of 30m to 50m will take most distance runners to maximum velocity or require them to maintain it past that point for an additional 10-20m segment.
  • Avoid over-training -- One session of short sprints per week is enough for most distance runners, with five or six total reps.
  • Don't rush the recovery times between sprints -- Walk back between efforts. Keep the quality high.
  • Adhere to basic sprint mechanics when doing sprint work -- Body posture should be tall, shoulders down, and face relaxed. Sprinting is done on the ball of the foot, with the initial ground contact point below the body's center of gravity. Landing with the foot in front of the body risks hamstring injuries.
  • Most of a distance race pace is run with the elbows relaxed and at approximately a 90-degree angle. When shifting gears to sprint, however, the arm angles change, with the elbow joint opening on the down-stroke to produce more power. Some coaches call that "dropping the arms."
  • Sprint drills do not tend to transfer very well -- Specificity of learning indicates that the motor skills needed to accelerate better are enhanced by actually sprinting.
  • Though a very small percentage of a distance runner's weekly mileage, acceleration sessions still play a part in the total package required to compete on a higher level.



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Robert Marchetti, a former NCAA Division track coach at Rider University and Columbia University, is a private track and field coach located in Hamilton, New Jersey. For more information, you can email him at robertmarchetti221@hotmail.com. You can visit his website at www.coachup.com/coaches/robertm-4


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