When people think of speed training, a lot of times you think of sprinting or short distance bursts. Running from home to first, breaking away for a 30 yard touchdown, or tracking a soccer ball down. From my experience though speed training can be used for longer distance runs as well. Currently, I have 3 former athletes who are running cross country in division I and my experiences with them has solidified my thought that, “Yes, speed training can help distance runners.” Now let’s break this down why.

Recently, I interviewed a former collegiate distance runner for a position with my company. She was explaining to me that speed training and the weight training that accompanies it is something that she did year round. She never really had an off-season until summer because they did cross country in the fall. In the winter time, you had indoor track season and then in the spring outdoor track started. They were constantly on a lifting program and doing different speed drills.

First off, improving an athlete’s strength makes them a more efficient distance runner.

Getting a distance runner on a strength program isn’t going to automatically drop their time. They still have to do the distance training which incorporates long runs, interval, and tempo training. But, being stronger means they are able to expend less energy to have the same leg turnover while they are running. Consequently, when they run from point A to point B, they will have spent less energy and more energy can be spent on their cardiovascular conditioning. The result will keep them running longer at a faster pace.

The other benefit by having a stronger athlete is that it helps you running inclines. It also helps you with your kick towards the end of a race. The stronger you are the more you can call on energy reserves to help you with those two issues which obviously require a little more energy than other parts of the race. Plus, if your athlete has been strength training, it can reduce the chances of an injury and if you get an injury, you can recover quicker.

The second part of speed training is understanding your running mechanics and then some of the explosive plyometrics that we do with speed training. Any more, distance runners run very similar to sprinters, but for anyone who isn’t an elite level distance runner, you need to understand the proper running mechanics.

Traditionally, distance runners don’t swing their arms as powerfully during the race and have a shorter, more efficient stride.

When it comes to sprinting, maybe towards the end of the race, you have to change that out a little bit. The arms have to go full range of motion and pump hard. Your legs are getting heavy at this point and by pumping your arms, you will get your legs going faster. The leg stride doesn’t have to change too much, but you want to make sure that you are running on the balls of your feet for optimum power. The more efficient you are with your running mechanics, the less you will create excess wasted energy taking away from your cardiovascular conditioning.

Finally, I think plyometrics are great for distance runners. The first reason is because the landing helps prepare your body for the shock it will feel over the thousands of steps you will be running in a race. At a little higher intensity, it can also prepare your body to handle uneven terrain. It also helps develop the fast twitch, explosive muscle fibers needed for those certain moments in a race we previously discussed – i.e. the final kick, running an incline, or passing someone. The more you can prepare your body for these particular moments you experience in a race, the better off you will be.

Speed training is still poo-poohed by a lot of distance running purists. A lot of runners, look like gaunt stick figures that are going to fall down if I sneeze on them. You aren’t adding bulk to them with this speed training, what we are trying to do is add strength and power to the distance runner to give them the advantage they need to win their race.

I’m fairly new to training distance athletes with our speed training program. Maybe the 3 athletes that I worked with would have secured a division I scholarship without our program. But, if you were to listen to the accolades all of their parents gave us, you might beg to differ. Once again, you want to use everything at your disposal as an athlete to reach the optimum level. You might have doubts whether speed training could get your distance runner to that level, but I have NO doubts. IT WILL!