The Only 3 Reasons Your Sprinters Fall Apart at the End of Races

3 Reasons Sprinters Fall Apart at the End of Races

Posted by Latif Thomas

sprintin mechanics

Don’t let this happen to your sprinters!

Recently, 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.

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’.

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 400m training programs as well.

I didn’t invent these ideas. I learned them when I was preparing to teach the sprints and relays sections of the USTFCCCA Track & Field Technical Certification, 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. After all, coaching high school sprinters is a wildly different animal than coaching in the collegiate environment.

Coaching success means starting with the end in mind. Without a clear understanding of how to design and implement an effective annual plan for sprinters, you’re doomed to making well intentioned, but false assumptions about why your sprinters fail to execute and perform.

So, again, there are only THREE reasons sprinters fall apart at the end of races.

As the coach, it is up to you to understand these reasons in order to consistently identify and fix the fatal technical flaws frustrating both you and your sprints squad.

This article will help you figure out where and why things are going wrong, as well as how to fix the problem/s.


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 (high intensity runs of 2-4 seconds), top end speed/maximum velocity (high intensity runs of 4-8 seconds), speed endurance (high intensity runs of 8-15 seconds), special endurance (high intensity runs of 20 seconds to 2 minutes), strength and power (weight room, multi jumps, and multi throws) development, 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. And, no doubt, you’ve watched your 400 runners tie up over the last 150 meters on multiple occasions. Your mind will tell you,

“They need more ‘strength'”.

But ask yourself this question:

Do they have a fast 200m PR?

That is, does their 200m lifetime best stack up equally against other 300m and 400m runners with similar 400m personal bests?

If you do the math, you may find they simply don’t have the flat out speed to match top 400m specialists.

Therefore, 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.

These are the modern training concepts covered in great detail in programs like the best selling Complete Speed Training 2 and Building the Perfect 100m Runner…From Start to Finish by Harvard University’s Marc Mangiacotti.

(But, 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 training philosophy and system, all 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:

Upright posture (chin up, chest up, toe up, knee up, heel up) and *flat* footed landing with the shin perpendicular to the ground at foot strike. If we let kids get away with toe or heel first landings, even during the warm up, it contributes to the insufficient motor patterns we’re working so hard to fix.

If coordination development isn’t a foundational part of your program, your sprinters probably get run down at the end of races, particularly against skilled sprinters with slightly less or equal levels of  ability.

(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 an ineffective ‘drive phase’.

Your sprinters simply don’t push hard enough for long enough.

In truth, the problems start with their starting blocks settings. Most young sprinters are not properly situated in the blocks before the gun goes off.

I recommend downloading this free starting blocks set up ‘cheat sheet’ to make sure your sprinters aren’t out of the race before the gun goes off.

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 old school speed drills like Champions in practice. But when the gun goes off they immediately revert to whatever feels most natural.

Unfortunately, what feels natural is not fast. So they pick their head up, flick the drive arm up about 4 inches, step out of the blocks, stand straight up and start spinning their wheels like they’re auditioning to be the Road Runner. And we all know what happens to the Road Runner.

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.

In fact, you might consider holding your sprinters out of blocks until they show the ability to do quality down (3 point, 4 point) starts without blocks. Regardless of whether you adopt this approach, they still need to get set up properly in the down position if they’re going to develop any consistency, especially in the chaos of an actual race!

This is why we do some form of acceleration development every day.

Yes, every day. Starting the first day of practice.

You just have to patient because unless you have naturally explosive and/or extremely strong 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.

The extent to which they develop these skills and qualities is directly proportional to how well you implement a training program addressing the workouts, volumes and intensities scientifically proven to generate faster times.

In ‘Finding and Fixing Fatal Flaws in Sprinters’, I break down the topic and give specific solutions (workouts, drills, cues, etc.) for fixing common errors in young sprinters.

If you’ve come to realize ‘Energy System Failure’ may be an issue for your long sprinters, consider adding this 400 meter training system to your coaching library.

If ‘Coordination Erosion’ (Scientific Term: Crapping the bed at the end of the race) and/or ‘Momentum Deprivation’ are stealing fast times from you and your sprinters, this sprints development resource will provide solutions to your problems. 

Regardless of what you do next, be sure to download your free starting blocks set up ‘cheat sheet’.


We want to work with you directly and show you exactly how to assess, identify, fix and improve all the issues preventing your athletes (or you) from consistently faster times, register today for the 5th Annual Complete Track and Field Summer Clinic at Harvard University.

We have one of the largest and most diverse staffs of any high school clinic in the country. In the past four years, we've hosted over 1,400 coaches and athletes from ALL 50 US States, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, The United Kingdom, Sweden, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, China, and Japan.

You have many camp/clinic options. But, if you want to come to the biggest and baddest event at the most famous University in the World, register today and join us at Harvard this summer at the Complete Track and Field Summer Clnic! 


Latif Thomas owns and operates Complete Track and Field and serves as the Co-Director of the Complete Track and Field Clinic, the largest track and field clinic in the United States. A popular speaker and presenter at some of the largest coaching clinics in the country. Over the past 15 years, he has coached more combined League, Division, All State and New England Champions in the sprints, hurdles, and jumps than he had the emotional strength to go back and try to count. Follow @latif_thomas on Twitter

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  • coach777b

    Welcome to New England guys! Here in CT, where roadrunners and marathoners turn into HS coaches, sprinters are lost. Those 2-mile ‘warmups’ just suck the speed out of these kids. I go to meets in PA, NJ and NJ and I see sprinters at HS meets whose mechanics show they are not being trained by road runners. There is one 400m runner out of New Haven who is competitive nationally but she has been coached by speed oriented coaches. So Latif, keep your messages coming, perhaps some of it will ‘trickle down’ to your fellow coaches here in New England!

    • Latif Thomas


      I’m trying!

  • Coach Johnson

    Coach I have a question for now I have the Css2 and the 100m seris also but I am here in Chicago where I have a Jr that seems to be stuck on 50.12 in the 400 and he needs to be sub 49 if he plans to be in the State finals in about 5 weeks. what would you do to help him get down. we have been doing race work on the different phases of the 400. i mean what am i missing with this young man

    • AC

      Once again you have done an outstanding job explaining the true reasons behind the breakdown in sprinters and as is your gift, explained in terms that even a novice could understand.
      Well Said.

      • Latif Thomas


        Thank you very much!

        • Steve

          @Latif Thomas:
          Yeah, last year was awful cold. But far too typical. Bring on global warming!

    • Latif Thomas

      @Coach Johnson:

      Nearly impossible to answer that question without knowing anything about his training background.

    • Keith Thompson

      @Coach Johnson:
      What’s his best 100 time? It may be that he’s simply not fast enough. It’s almost impossible to run a 49 unless he has at least 11.0 100 speed (barring non-speed factors like being a poor starter). Presuming he has 11.0 or better speed, there could be a number of reasons, but my best guess would be that he’s starting out too slow. Almost all young 400 runners are afraid of running out of steam and start out too slow. I tell my 400 runners to run the first 50 or 60 meters “all out”, like it’s a 100M dash. This is actually wrong, but they always back off just a bit (which is what we actually want), and I’ve found this is the only way to get them to run the first 50 ALMOST all-out. For a high school runner to run a 49.0 they should hit the 100 mark in 11.5-11.7; the 200 mark at 23.4-23.7; and the 300 around 36.0-36.2. Then in the last 100 they should concentrate on form and just finish as best they can. Sometimes they’ll have some juice left and run 49.0, sometimes they won’t and they’ll die and get passed in the stretch (which looks bad, feels bad, and reinforces their natural inclination to take it easier in the beginning the next time.) This is what you must not allow them to do. The only way to improve is to go out hard everytime. Bit by bit they’ll build up their lactic acid tolerance until they’re finally able to finish strong.

      • coach johnson

        @Keith Thompson:

        thanks for the info but to answer your question his 100m time is 10.84 but he doesn’t run the open 100 he is a 200 & 400 guy. When I posted that question it was early and I wanted a quick fix but we all know there are no such thing as a quick fix. In short we got the young man down to 48.56 by usatf jr Nationals and he has already run 49.02 this indoor season in his first race. I had to break down each part of his race to figure out the problem but hours of tape study with him and myself and the weightroom we solve his issue now is about keeping him healthy durning the winter here in chicago

  • Greg

    While I totally agree with you, I was in San Antonio and had the opportunity to dine with a few different people – Pat Henry & Vince Anderson (Texas A&M), Clyde Hart (Baylor), and Vin Lananna (Oregon). (3 different meals) Each of them has had success in the long sprints, so I asked a few questions. 2 of them were 98% in your camp, 2 of them were about 20% in your camp. The one thing I took from the HOF dinner was this, “There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, but there are absolutely wrong ways to do it!”

    If you’re reading this article, and you got down to this point, and you’re still wondering if it’s worth it to keep on Latif’s email list, or wondering if you should sign up, DO IT! He’ll give you options, and you can figure your way out to do some of these things. Even if it’s just reinforcing your previous training or knowledge (My USTFCCCA certifications for example), it’s great info and you never know what one new idea could be the ground breaker for your next success in your program. Good luck!

    • Latif Thomas


      Haha Greg let me guess: Pat and Vince were 98% in ‘my’ camp and Clyde and Vin (the two volume guys) were not! (I’d love to discuss that topic in greater detail over a cold beverage!…)

      But I do appreciate the kind words. You’ve succinctly summarized my main goal here: Give coaches practical options that they can steal, ignore or test out, but without giving absolutes like ‘only short to long’ or ‘only long to short’ or ‘only the way I do it’.

  • Jason Purcell/Speed First

    More is not better. Better is better! The article explains the problem and solution well.

  • Jason Purcell/Speed First

    Coach Johnson,

    I’m in Chicago too. Love to see your kid run. Maybe a second set of eyes would help. If you want, you can email me your schedule and I’ll try to come to a meet. Best of luck to you!

  • Greg


    You got it right! It was great to have a conversation with each of them, and while we were sitting with Pat and Vince, Jessica Beard stopped by! Clyde and Vin have their reasons too, and I respect them, though I am much more in favor of energy systems training. Glad I could give you a pitch. I try to tell my former athletes who want to get into coaching to check you out.


    Latif,its not only like that in Massachusetts but is the same way in Missouri. The CBLF( carbon based life forms) that are coaching here will not take a class or of they did, the only reason was to get paid more money cuase they are still doing the same damn thing. Back in November I went to the USATF annual convention and heard Clyde Hart,Dennis Mitchell and Jon Drummond at the PEP seminar. The only high school coaches that were there from the metro area was me and my buddy HF. iF YOU WANT TO BE THE BEST YOU HAVE TO LEARN FROM THE BEST. Why re-invent mediocrity when you can steal genius. You are so on point about the sprint thing, and my Divas always surprised folks because I took the time to teach them proper sprint mechanics and I coached out in the suburbs( I know what you mean).

  • Cameron Gary

    Absolutely on point! I remember a few short years ago literally arguing with “experienced” coaches about the need to develop speed and coordination before endurance. I have since moved on and my 100/200 athletes rarely run over 250 meters. I still do energy system work. But we accomplish that by manipulating the intensity and rest intervals. We do a TON of work on race modeling, coordination and applied mechanics. Of course my high school athletes are developmental. But the FACT is that we are a small Catholic school near the Mexican border. Demographically our athlete base is very limited. Our enrollment is under 700 – the next SMALLEST school in our league is 1800, with most of the other schools between 2500 – 3000. Yet we managed to win the girls 100, 200, long jump, triple jump, high jump, and take 2nd in the 400 relay last season. None of these athletes were seniors. One of the sophomore girlsls took 10th in the CA State Meet (near 39 feet). This season we have a boy and a girl favore to win or league 100 championship. We have two others in the mix for the 200. Again, we are WAY outnumbered and we don’t run long. But we run well. We also run the other guys/gals down at the end of races. Guys…this stuff really works!

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  • Antonio Powell

    So Latif does this not apply to the 100 meters and only appy to the 200 & 400 meters and if so why is it so

    • Latif Thomas

      @Antonio Powell:

      Energy system failure doesn’t apply in the 100, but momentum deprivation and coordination erosion certainly do. That brutal backside mechanics you often see from kids hacking their way to the finish is your evidence of the two aforementioned performance limiters.

  • Brian

    So, what changes in your skipping drills are you planning? That is one drill I work our kids on daily, as well as in in the hurdles, and if I can fine tune or change something I wanna know!

  • Greg

    “(Or if you coach in Massachusetts, where I do, they need more aerobic work. Give them lots more aerobic work. Distance runs preferably.)”

    Now, that cracked me up!!

    So…I have been a xc and distance coach for…oh, since 2002 at the high school/middle school level. While we are a small school, we have had great success in distance.

    Now I just learned I am going to be coaching a small team of girl sprinters, and my brain is spinning. Yeah, I come from the mindset of 10 minute easy run, drills, 2 x 800, 10 x 400, 20 minute tempo run, etc., etc.

    And of course, at the school I coach, there is ZERO

  • Greg

    Posted before I was read.

    but mean to say….ZERO budget.

    I am finding the information I am learning from the videos being sent and article extremely helpful.

    And like the above poster, we do skips, and I’m curious how you changed up your skips.

  • Greg – of PA

    Latif – we had a visit from a former teammate of yours in our pole vault practice the other day. His events were not energy deprivation events, but it was great for my athletes to see him and hear his perspective on things. (2001 60m dash and pole vault champ of the Big East, do you remember who that was?)

    • Latif Thomas

      @Greg – of PA:

      My first (and only) guess (without using the Google Machine) would be the one and only Laban Marsh?!

  • Greg – of PA

    That’s right! And you’re right, he is one of a kind! I’m enjoying your posts…keep up the good work.

  • Doug

    I have coached track at a small high school in south Dakota for around 15 years now, and when started I called and went to clinics, and watched videos. In practice We ran fast and never did distance or long intervals, and all I heard was you don’t do enough conditioning. We were always competitive in our conf and region, and on state level many years. I still hear this all these years later, so nice breath of fresh air to hear this.

  • Mike

    Thanks, Latif, for this post and for the work you do here in general. I’ve been coaching HS sprinters & hurdlers for a little more than a decade — and now in The Bay State! — and like those master coaches from Texas I am at least 98% in your camp. The biggest obstacle I have encountered in pursuing that approach is the inertia of athletes and colleagues who have learned things the old way. I’ve always been vindicated by results, but man I wish everyone I work with would get on board sooner. Anyway, thanks again for this and I hope our paths cross on some oval in the Commonwealth – would love to talk coaching. — Mike

    • Latif Thomas


      I hear you on that! Where are you coaching? Will you be at the State Invite/s this weekend?

  • Daniel Cortez

    hey, I’m going to start coaching middle school track. What should I focus on with these kids?

    • Latif Thomas

      General athletic development, but most specifically teach them how to accelerate. With middle school kids, you have to keep it fun and ‘games’ oriented and less like true ‘training’ you’d do with high schoolers. As always, I recommend Complete Speed Training 2 as a foundational resource.

    • Patrick


      What about the research by Bundle and Weyand regarding that this issue is a limitation in force production (neuromuscular strength) not a fuel supply deficit (metabolic / anaerobic energy systems)?


      • Latif Thomas

        I don’t understand your question, it it was meant to be one. Nonetheless, I’d argue that all 3 issues I mention are directly (2&1) or indirectly (3) a result of enefficiently expressed force application.

        • Patrick


          Sorry for the ambiguity. My reference was specifically for #1, Energy System Failure. My interpretation of that is a fuel supply shortage. This parallels with Barry Ross’s (Underground Secrets of Faster Running Book) application of this research in that all that is required for sprint training regardless whether it’s just 50 meters up to 400 meters is near max sprints (95% of full speed for that specific distance from about 10 meters to ~ 80 meters and low volume – high resistance weight training > 85% of the actual or estimated 1 Rep Max.

          • Latif Thomas

            That’s where I thought you were headed, just didn’t want to make assumptions. Like I say in the article – not an issue in the 100, could be in the 200 and certainly in the 400. We can talk about mass specific force (and I’ve talked at length with Barry about this in the past as I sold his book on my old site as well as Peter and Barry’s book is based exclusively on that old Weyend article) but there are energy system qualities that must be developed in events like the 200 (especially if running rounds) and the 400. Mass specific force application is a major factor, but not the only thing that leads to success in the long sprints. You can’t do concentric only dead lifts and max velocity runs and maximize your potential in the 400. Energy system failure in long sprints is not only a metabolic failure, but failure to teach the ability to efficiently apply that force for the duration of the event.

          • Patrick


            Then what is your opinion of Charlie Francis premise that medium intensity runs / sprints @ 76% to 94% of max speed are not included in his training program due to being too slow to elicit the desired response and too fast to adequately recover from in 24 hours?


          • Latif Thomas

            Charlie Francis is one of the first coaches I studied when I started learning sprints so my philosophy is certainly influenced by his beliefs. Thus, I mostly agree with him regarding development of short sprinters (55-200m). I do not do much intensive tempo with that group. We do extensive tempo and GS work on our recovery days and run fast on the other days.

          • Patrick

            What does “GS” stand for?

          • Latif Thomas

            ‘GS’ stands for ‘General Strength’

  • Daniel Cortez

    hey, I’m going to start coaching middle school track. What should I focus on with these kids?

    • Latif Thomas

      General athletic development, but most specifically teach them how to accelerate. With middle school kids, you have to keep it fun and ‘games’ oriented and less like true ‘training’ you’d do with high schoolers. As always, I recommend Complete Speed Training 2 as a foundational resource.

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  • Patrick


    What about the research by Bundle and Weyand regarding that this issue is a limitation in force production (neuromuscular strength) not a fuel supply deficit (metabolic / anaerobic energy systems)?


  • Coach V – Minnesota

    I think the coaches in my state should do more aerobic work too! Also, they should keep their kids out of the weight room. They don’t want their sprinters to get too “bulky”!

    I’m in the 98% agree camp. Most of my sprinters hate “running”. They love sprinting. The second half of the season, we rarely do more than 300m in practice. Get strong, learn to apply force correctly, develop speed endurance at race speed. Drink the “Kool-aide” that Latif is talking about. (5 state champion, 12 state finals in the sprint relays since I tweeked my philosophy on how to train sprinters about 7 years ago)

    Maybe three or four times in the early season I’ll have my sprinters run total volume that exceeds 2 miles. That includes warm-up and cool-down.

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  • Steve

    Was that meet only 6 hours? Felt like 12. Which is no disrespect to the guys running it – they did an awesome job to crank through so many heats in so little time…

  • Latif Thomas


    They did do a great job I was expecting to be there until 5. The times weren’t blazing, but at least it was warm out. Last year was awful!