Track is upon us! Well almost. January is almost in the books and we will be making the switch to Track-specific training in a couple of weeks. Training for track is different than cross country. The fundamentals of aerobic training are not much different, but when we get specific, track looks and feels faster to most athletes. We primarily run three races: 800m, 1600m, and 3200m. The three races are all basically middle distances and therefore, require more speed work than a 5K race.
In order to meet the needs of our very diverse team, the coaches have conferred and decided upon a strategy that will tease out the speedy talents of some and develop non-inherent speed in others. The nice thing about getting faster is everyone can do it. Some of us feel like we have more or less genetic speediness, but no matter what you are starting out with, it can get better. Now, that is all well and good for the coach to say, but how does the athlete actually make it happen?
Speed must be worked on everyday in some fashion or another. In order to understand this, first take a look at what “speed” is in the world of running. Speed as defined by physiologists world wide is a product of stride rate and stride length. Basically, how fast can you put one foot in front of the other and how much ground do you cover each time you do so. Getting faster is the result of improving one or both of these components. Other things to consider are ground contact time, vertical bounce, and force (how hard a runner strikes the track). If we start by trying to improve stride length or stride rate, we can start seeing improvements almost immediately.
Speed can be improved on the track and in the gym. Drills, stride, hill sprints, and bleachers are all activities designed to help runners improve their stride rate. Just doing them is not enough though. In order to maximize the benefits of these activities, they must be done with focused intention to get better. You will only see improvements when you perform these activities with your best effort and evaluate yourself so that you see improvement each time. Your body will remember movements that you repeat over and over again. The more we do anything, the stronger the neuromuscular connection becomes. Therefore, practicing with bad habits will lead to bad results and practicing with good habits will turn you into a winner.
Work done in the gym or on the field as part of what we call “core” is meant to improve your strength and flexibility with functional movements. Power is a key factor when considering speed. Members of the Nike Oregon Project lift several times a week all year. Their coach, Alberto Salazar, says that his runners actually perform better when lifting more, even right up to their peak races. Distance runners who lift are not seeking to put on muscle mass in the gym, they are looking to gain strength in their lean muscle mass. However, that does not mean that runners should lift light weights. Lifting “heavy” ads strength faster and more effectively than light weights with a lot of reps. One cannot just simply start lifting heavy weights right away though. Our strength routines are designed to improve general strength first and gradually build you up to lifting heavier.
So, do you want to get faster? If you do, set goals for yourself and focus in practice everyday. As Coach Sue points out fairly often, “We race how we practice.” There is no magic race-day switch that you can flip. Work on speed daily and it will be there for you when you need it.