If crawling on all fours across the finish line is your idea of a big time then have I got a deal for you. Sprint workouts. Not running-fast workouts. Not race-pace workouts. I mean 100-meter sprints. A full-out, balls to the wall, every cell in your body straining, sprint. The kind of races that Olympic runners do in 9-odd seconds and this old man does in 16.
I just recently learned about the glories and agonies of the sprint. I get bored on long pavement runs, and hot, and thought that trying sprints would be fun. I went to the local track to run ten 100 meter dashes. My plan was too run one, turn around and walk back to the start, and then run another. That should be enough rest, right? I figured that by the time I ran the tenth sprint, I would have a good work out going. Wrong. By the time I hit about the eighth step of the first run, I was done. My legs turned to lead and I felt like I was running headlong into gale force winds. It was crushing. My heart rate zoomed to over 100% of my calculated maximum. By the time I did four runs, I was exhausted and spent. I managed to do three more that resembled running. I felt horrible. The last three couldn’t be categorized as runs. I could hardly feel my legs. When a ran, I imagined my feet tied to my hands like a marionette. The only way to bring my feel up off the ground was to force my hand upward and forward. I dropped a full five seconds from my first to my last sprint.
The next day I was still tired and slightly sore. The following day I was sore from my calves to my lats. My biceps hurt. My abs hurt. I hurt in places where I didn’t know I had muscles.
So what did I learn?
- I learned what insiders already knew. This is one heck of a whole body workout. When I run for distance I relax my upper body and breathe easy. When sprinting, I push with my legs, pull with my arms, and lean hard toward the finish. Even my back was sore. This intensity has an added benefit: long-term charged metabolism. My soreness and elevated heart rate indicated that I upped my metabolism for an entire day.
- When I run a long distance, I listen to music or podcasts, watch the scenery, and have been known to jump into the woods to chase down a bird or butterfly. Sprinting is more of a zen activity. You are entirely present. Every ounce of focus you can muster is used to move you forward. Everything else slips away.
- You get a little more comfortable with pain and discomfort. When you are slogging through your sixth dash and everything you feel says to stop – and you don’t – you are training yourself to overcome temporary discomfort which has benefits for all areas of working out.
- By its nature, this is an exercise-to-failure workout. My resting heart rate is in the low 50’s and during a normal run hovers in the low-140’s. It topped 170 in my sprint workout. I wouldn’t do a full-out sprint workout unless you are in reasonably good condition. Start a little slower and do shorter sprints. Take time to work up to two, three, then ten 100m dashes. Ramping up slowly here is even more important than with your distance. Things can break.
- Do not ignore stretching and warming up for these runs. It’s not unusual for me to dash out the door for a slow five miler without stretching. Pulling that stunt here can have serious repercussions. You are asking your muscles to perform in a way they might not have since high school gym. They will need coaxing and gentle persuasion. I guarantee a rebellion if you step to the line and do a full exertion for fifteen seconds without preparation. And it can take weeks to heal. As in all things regarding exercise, start slow and keep your footing with new activities.
- Along with stretching and warming up, there is some wisdom to be learned about stopping. Don’t. At least not fast. Run all the way through the finish line and slow down slowly over several meters. Watch the track stars. They run half way around the curve to slow down. Coming to a screeching halt can beat up your taut muscles just like starting with stretching.
- I do these workouts at a track for two reasons. The first is that there is no guessing about distance. No pacing off meters. No laying a branch across the street and hoping it doesn’t blow away. Just a well-marked 100 or 200 meters. This enables me to track my results over time. The other reason is that it’s a smooth and softer surface. If I fall – and you will be surprised how akimbo you feel – I want a smooth track instead of the tarred crushed-gravel they call roads here in South Carolina.
- Physiology wonks can have fun with this one. It was interesting that my first wall – about eight seconds into my first run – corresponds exactly with the amount of free ATP in my muscles. We each carry enough ATP in our muscle cells to fuel 8-10 seconds of an all-out activity. After that, up until around two minutes, we convert to what is called fast-glycolysis where the mitochondria manufacture glucose from other biochemicals. Then we convert to slow-glycolysis where glycogen is broken down with oxygen. This is the aerobic zone we are familiar with where we can just keep going. Doing more and harder workouts can increase the mitochondria in our muscles and thereby increase the length of time that we can exert at an 80-100% level. Those Olympic sprinters? They are at 100% for the entire race. I get only halfway down and then convert to 80%. Oh well. I gave up Olympic dreams a long time ago.
So go out and have some fun with the hardest workout you might ever do. If you are an experienced sprinter please add to the conversation for the benefit of us newbies who don’t want to hurt ourselves.
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