Why Distance Guys (and Most Athletes) Should Do Some Sprint-Style Speed Training

Sprinting is a very different skill than running. Max sprint speed can be extremely useful to a distance runner when the hammer comes down. And it can be learned.

Pete Magill holds the U.S. over-50 record in the 5K (15:02; he ran 14:45 at age 49). In his record-setting years Pete ran 100-mile weeks, but he also trained for speed like a sprinter, primarily with plyometric bounding exercises and short max-speed hill sprints.

It’s amazing how much life you can put back in your legs, even after you reach a “certain age,” Or even if you’re just a kid of 40.

(Hey, forty is half my age, and my legs are lively.)

The secret of youthful legs lies in doing something no self-respecting long-distance runner would want to talk about, lest he/she be shamed, catcalled, and disrespected by his/her peers.

Coach Tony Holler with Olympic sprint legend Carl Lewis, at a symposium where they were featured speakers.

Activating our own personal max speed potential comes by increasing our power to the ground and by waking up our central nervous system, which, in turn, comes from training at max speed, and from doing stuff that only the fast guys can do well.

You can also improve your ability to deliver power to the ground by doing deadlifts with 80% or more of your 1-rep max weight. Do three sets of three reps with 5 minutes between sets. Lift the weight, then drop it to the ground. You can – and should – do brief plyo immediately after each set – box jumps, for example, or skipping or bounding.

You can easily tell if someone is sprint-fast, even before you’ve seen him/her run. Just ask them to do imaginary box jumps. The fast guys will go high with actual hang time. The slow guys will be terrible at it. To get faster, we need to practice doing what the fast guys are good at.

These aren’t my ideas. They’re borrowed from Coach Tony Holler. To learn more, visit Tony’s YouTube channel where he shares his “Feed the Cats” methods. I’m a huge fan. After just two sessions of the “Atomic Workout,” my legs with 80 years of miles in them were amazingly renewed and I was able to walk the way I used to get teased for when I was young: “Beinhorn, you walk like a farmer tromping across a plowed field!”

Hey, distance guys. Before you click away in disgust, think for minute. How useful would it be to be able to run at your max sprint speed anytime, including the last quarter-mile of a 5K race?

Tony Holler is retired after 39 years as a high school honors chemistry teacher and track, football, and basketball coach, but he has a wildly enthusiastic consulting practice. Coaches fly him in to help them transform their training approach and their team cultures. His workouts are short, and they’re huge fun. The Atomic Workout takes just 16 minutes. His high school track teams won the Illinois state 4×100 in their division four times in the first six years after he implemented his max-speed methods. He and his guests are some of the  most inspiring people I have encountered. I could cancel Netflix and Prime and still be well entertained. Highly recommended.

Among pro athletes whose speed coaches have adopted Feed the Cat sprint-training principles: Super Bowl-winning quarterback Patrick Mahomes and San Francisco 49er running back Christian McCaffrey.

(Disclaimer: Don’t be an idiot. See your doctor before you undertake an exercise program.)