Though generally neglected by distance runners, strides and sprints are advocated by almost all distance running coaches for their athletes as a minor component of their training. Lydiard has "wind sprints," Hudson has "hill sprints," Daniels and Pfitzinger have strides. [Interesting to me is that Daniels, who tries to explain the "whys" of each type of running, never discusses why he includes these.] Strides are simply 10-20 second bursts of roughly 1 Mile race pace (often 100 meters) mixed into a steady run. Sprints are a few seconds run at maximum speed. Though similar, they address different concerns and often produce different results. The day after doing strides, one often feels invigorated, with a carry-over of speed, making the next day's run faster than expected; the day after sprints, one often has aching muscles and can barely run at all.
The reason for doing strides is two-fold. First, one learns to return to a base pace after an intense effort, without "crashing and burning." Second, one decreases the likelihood of injury when racing; those who always train at a slow pace, being unaccustomed to running fast, often get hurt when trying to run fast for the first time.
Sprinting forces joints to move through a more extreme range of motion than regular running, increasing flexibility. It also strengthens muscles in a manner similar to lifting heavy weights. Hudson makes the claim that increasing top speed by 5% will decrease marathon times by 5%; this is incorrect, as training is far more specific - decreasing one's 100m time from 20 to 19 seconds will only decrease one's marathon time by at most a few seconds. Hudson has one progress in sprinting by increasing the number of sprints, increasing the length of the sprints and increasing the steepness of the hill. I disagree with him on steepness.
I've coached sprinters and there are a number of methods of "facilitated sprinting" that can be used to increase top speed, but the only one that's practical for distance runners is downhill sprinting - one can simply run faster downhill than on flat ground. Sprinting uphill decreases the stress on one's legs; as one gets accustomed to it, one decreases the slope until sprinting on flat ground and then one can move on to downhill sprints, which are very hard on muscles and joints.
A very little physiology
The first 3-4 seconds of an all-out sprint, that portion where one is accelerating, one's energy comes not from stored glycogen, but from phosphocreatine (aka creatine phosphate). This energy source is used up rapidly, but unlike glycogen, is easily and quickly replenished. Though one can artificially increase muscle stores of phosphocreatine, this is not useful except for sprinters.
The double sprint: Accererate to top speed, hold that speed for a couple of seconds, then try to accelerate again. There are two ways to increase speed; you can either increase your stride rate (try pumping your arms quickly - your legs will follow) or increase your stride length while keeping stride frequency constant. Try both.
The facilitated second-half sprint: pick a course that has soft but stable footing where one can sprint for about 50 meters, with the last half slightly downhill. Just as you get to top speed, you should reach the downhill where you can force yourself to run just a bit faster. This is quite hard on the legs and one should not attempt too steep a grade at first.
The tactical track sprint: for those who race on tracks, one can practice sprinting the straightaways and relaxing on the turns and then sprinting on the turns and relaxing on the straight sections. Both can be useful for holding off competitors in a track race.
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