Athletes participating in track and field's sprint events, which range from the 55 meters indoors to the 400 meters outdoors, have one clear and essential requirement: all-out foot speed. This, however, is not the only thing you need in order to reach your potential in these events, particularly if you lean toward the long sprints. Some degree of basic conditioning is essential, and you can achieve this using various endurance-oriented running workouts.
Preseason Distance Running
The two to three months leading into the competitive track season -- meaning the winter months for those targeting outdoor track and the fall for indoor aspirants -- are ideal for working on conditioning as well as speed. International sprint coach Jimson Lee of Speed Endurance suggests that sprinters do morning runs of 2 miles several times a week in this phase, along with easy 25- to 30-minute runs on the weekends for seasoned athletes and faster repetitions on grass of up to 1,000 meters long during the week.
Mike Holloway, who has coached various sprinters at the powerhouse University of Florida program to the top level, recommends a number of repetition workouts to condition sprinters in the preseason and early season. These include 6 x 600 meters, 6 x 300 meters, 500-400-300-200-100 meters, and various other permutations. These should be done at close to an all-out pace and interspersed with five to 10 minutes of slow jogging. When a 10-minute easy jog is tacked on to the beginning and end of such a session, what is on the surface a speed session takes on the character of a distance run as well, albeit one at a highly varied pace.
Form Fits Function
One often understated way in which distance runs can help sprint specialists is that prolonged runs help athletes hone a sense of rhythm and encourage them, without their having to dedicate any conscious thought to the matter, to adopt the running form that is most efficient given their personal biomechanics. A runner who becomes more efficient at more modest paces also trends toward more economical form at his or her top-end speed thanks to that neuromuscular reinforcement inherent in repeating virtually any physical movement a sufficient number of times.
Rising to the Challenge
Overdistance runs in and of themselves, in any guise, are essential to success in the sprints. But some are better than others in terms of contributing to a sprinter's ability to get faster. If you live in a hilly area, including lots of uphills in your distance runs are a marvelous way to include some power work in your training without using weights, because when you run uphill, you recruit your "sprinting muscles" -- the gluteal muscles and the calves in particular -- to a much greater extent than you do when running on level ground.
One example of a workout to try: six to eight uphill runs of 100 to 200 meters at a brisk-but-not-all-out pace in the middle of an otherwise easy run, twice a week in the preseason or early competitive season.
L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.