The sprint events in outdoor track include the 100-, 200- and 400-meter runs; the 100-, 110- and 400-meter hurdles can be lumped in with these as well. Clearly, the bulk of a sprinter's training needs to focus on raw speed, as distance runs represent a suboptimal allocation of training energy. That said, sprinters need a modicum of endurance to survive the multiple rounds of championship meets, especially long sprinters. So how far should sprinters go?
Energy Systems Used in Sprinting
Although the chief difference between the sprints and the distance races is the obvious one -- relative race speeds -- the most important from a training standpoint is metabolic. Whereas the overwhelmingly aerobic distance events use a "pay-as-you-go" system in which inspired oxygen is sufficient to keep athletes going the entire way, the anaerobic sprints rely on the substances adenosine triphosphate and creatine phosphate stored in muscle for fuel. Since these are exhausted within a minute or less, they're of no use in the longer events, just as oxygen plays little to no role in the 400 meters and below.
As you might expect, there's a direct relationship between the length of a track event and the amount of aerobic running specialists in that event are advised to do. Therefore, 100-meter runners can get by on very little workaday distance running. UK Athletics coach Brian MacKenzie caps the distance such athletes should run at 3,000 meters -- about 1.88 miles -- and even then advises breaking this running into repeats of 200 meters or longer. He also suggests limiting this type of running mainly to the preseason conditioning period.
Legendary former Baylor University sprint coach points out that 200-meter specialists actually fall into two types -- those who are proficient at the 100 and 200 meters, and those whose wheelhouse includes the 200 and 400 meters. As a result, how far you ought to run as a 200-meter runner depends largely on which of these two subtypes describes you best. In any event, Hart suggests you do cross-country runs of 15 minutes, which for athletes of the caliber he coached would fall in the range of two to two-and-one-half miles.
The 400 meters demands considerably more basic conditioning than do the shorter sprints. Hart -- who coached the retired world-record holder as of 2013 in the men's 400 meters, Michael Johnson -- had his 400-meter athletes do continuous runs up to 45 minutes long, or about 60 times the duration of a world-class quarter-miler. The fastest women in the world take about 50 seconds to complete a 400-meter race; a solid high-school or open-class time is in the range of a minute, by the end of which muscle glycogen becomes a significant fuel source and a lack of conditioning will be exposed as a major weakness.
Michael Crystal earned a Bachelor of Science in biology at Case Western Reserve University, where he was a varsity distance runner, and is a USA Track and Field-certified coach. Formerly the editor of his running club's newsletter, he has been published in "Trail Runner Magazine" and "Men's Health." He is pursuing a medical degree.