3 Reasons Sprinters Fall Apart at the End of Races
This past Saturday I had the distinct pleasure of attending a 6 hour freshman/sophomore meet. The meet was very well run, it was just, you know, a 6 hour freshman/sophomore meet. I can’t tell you how many times I watched sprinters fall apart at the end of races.
So, I’m standing there, minding my own business and enjoying the sunshine, when a coach standing nearby had to go and say something crazy.
Typical. But, nonetheless crazy.
Not to go all Key and Peele on you, but I wanted to look this coach dead in the windows of his soul and say…
Wait. I’m digressing already.
Apparently, his athlete had gotten run down at the end of her 200. His explanation to the parent about why this happened was, verbatim:
“It’s conditioning, that’s all. We’ll work on conditioning and then she’ll be fine.”
First of all, no.
Secondly, ahhh, no.
Third, someone define ‘conditioning’ for the 200m.
Just kidding. Obviously this man who is responsible for the well being of human children meant ‘aerobic work’ or if we’re being generous, ‘interval work’.
In my opinion, it is a coaching mistake to assume that, when sprinters get run down in races, the solution is more ‘conditioning’, whatever that means. And, yes, that applies to the 400m as well.
I didn’t invent these ideas. I learned them when I was preparing to teach the sprints section of the USTFCCCA Track & Field Technical Certification this past January, so, full disclosure, that’s where I’m getting it from. I thought it was a great way of thinking about how you should view your program design, or, perhaps more appropriately, view the ‘holes’ in your program design.
Because, based on these three concepts, I’ve apparently got some holes in my program.
So, again, there are three reasons sprinters fall apart at the end of races or to use the TFTC terminology, here is what to do when dealing with ‘sprinters who decelerate excessively in the maintenance phase of their races’.
1. Energy System Failure
When coaches fail to adequately develop the anaerobic energy system, athletes often decelerate rapidly at the end of their race. This is frequently the cause in the 400, occasionally the cause in the 200 and never the cause in the 100.
In a nutshell, when coaches do too much aerobic and interval work and not enough acceleration, top end speed, specific endurance, strength or power work, sprinters fail to develop the qualities required to be successful in the sprint events.
It’s a crime when done to 100/200 runners. We can debate the split with 400 types. But, especially at the HS level, they don’t need more high volume, low intensity interval days. They need more work near, at or faster than race pace.
(Or if you coach in Massachusetts, where I do, they need more aerobic work. Give them lots more aerobic work. Distance runs preferably.)
2. Coordination Erosion
After operating at top speeds for more than a few seconds, the body’s motor control systems tend to fail. The ability to coordinate efficient movement patterns falls apart and then, if you know what you’re looking at, your sprinters are just stumbling and bumbling down the track, trying not to fall down. We see this most often toward the end of shorter sprint events.
If I were to break down the goals of my entire program into one sentence (after injury prevention) it would be:
Everything we do revolves around developing general and specific coordination.
Even our skipping is done in a very specific way. And starting next week, the rules of skipping will change for sprinters and jumpers due to the increase in technical expectation I need for the particular part of the training season we are about to enter.
If coordination development isn’t a foundational part of your program, your sprinters probably get run down at the end of races, particularly against good people.
(Or, if you coach sprinters here in Massachusetts: distance runs. Coordination development for sprinters starts and ends with long, slow runs. Especially for your 4×1 teams. I’m serious.)
3. Momentum Deprivation
That’s a fancy term for having a crappy drive phase.
Once the starting gun goes off, most inexperienced sprinters react like a sleeping cat when you slam two pans behind their head: Wild eyed, panicked and paying no particular attention to anything other than getting out of there as quickly as possible. (What can I say? I had a cat growing up. Let’s just say he was not a fan.)
They might perform Cusano Drills like Champions in practice. But when the gun goes off they immediately revert to whatever feels most natural.
Unfortunately, what feels natural is hot garbage. So they pick their head up, flick the drive arm up about 4 inches, step out of the blocks and start spinning their wheels like they’re auditioning to be the Road Runner. And we all know what happens to the Road Runner. Unless you’re a teenager and you don’t even know who that is, in which case, just take my word for it.
It’s sad really. Also, not fast.
So when they come out of blocks and shift gears too quickly or do some weird, seizure-like variation of the drive phase mechanics you were hoping for, it leads to not reaching their true top speed, getting to that fake top speed too early and beginning deceleration too soon.
This is why we do some form of acceleration development every day. You just have to patient because unless you have naturally explosive athletes who can hack their way to fast 100m times day one, your kids will probably have to take a step back before taking two steps forward.
At least that’s what I tell myself.
(Though, for the record, if you live in Massachusetts, the best way to develop acceleration is…you guessed it, out on the roads. Gotta get that “conditioning” in so you can improve their “strength” to finish races!)
So, in summary, your athletes must possess the ability to express large amounts of strength and power for the duration of their race.
They need the general and specific coordination to execute a consistent, efficient and violent drive phase that transitions into consistent and efficient coordination of top end speed and speed maintenance mechanics.
And they need enough reps in practice at appropriate velocities and intensities to allow them to execute these skills in competitive situations.
So there you go. Just go do that and you will have some nasty sprinters!
To your success,
By the way: Here is the program I use to develop top sprinters in my area year after year.
About Latif ThomasUSATF Level II and USTFCCCA Event Specialist (Sprints, Hurdles & Relays) Certified High School Track and Field coach specializing in the sprint events. But I know a thing or two about the jumps and hurdles as well.
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