Over the 37 years of my coaching career, I have had the good and bad fortune to have mentors who have filled my coaching data base with a litany of training approaches to make my sprint/hurdlers the best they can be. The good part was in the form of drills, workouts and “mother-wit” (Tony Wells) that enabled me to coach individuals of varied heights, weights, and personalities. The bad part was picking which ones to use when I had so much to call on. It got to the point where I was being paralyzed by the number of things I could do.
You get so enamored with all of the drills and workouts you accumulate over the years you try to do them all during the season. But they all don’t have a place in your year every year.
The old expression: Doing the same thing and expecting different results being the definition of insanity does not apply to track and field if you follow one very slight change. “Doing the same thing every year, a little differently” is the definition of track and field success. There are things that we, as track coaches, must do every year in order to reach the goals we and our sprint/hurdlers have.
I have found that if you want your sprinters and hurdlers to reach their genetic potential, you must:
- Develop speed (I did not say speed work). You must develop the speed you need at the highest velocity before any speed endurance work. Speed endurance is specific to speed of effectiveness, so higher velocities will yield greater skill and execution. Speed endurance first fails to give you the velocity needed to run your chosen sprint event. Training for speed endurance first gets you fit really fast and the chance of injury is lower. This is a major reason why some coaches live off this stuff. When was the last time you saw children stretching first and running repeat 500’s before going out to play? Have you ever seen a seven year old pull a hammy sprinting at top speed in order to be first on the swing set? Even a 300 in 34/39 seconds is too slow to teach the body what 10.70/11.70 (or 9.34/8.54 meters per second) feels like because both runs are 95% and 90% of what they need to run the goal time in. But if you can get your boy or girl to run 2.90 and 3.20 respectively for a fly 30 meters at practice, they have exceeded the average velocity of their goal 100m. This also makes any distance over 100 meters they run at practice, at a % of that new velocity, feel easier to run.
- Improve their physiological consideration (race pace vs win pace). Whatever the pace of the run is, train it. Whatever it takes to finish in the medal hunt, train it. How long is your boy or girl going to be on the track? The time it takes for you to get off the track tells you what energy systems will be used and how long they will be used. 54.0 and a 60.0 second 400m girls are on the track for different periods of time and thus require you as the coach to address specific differences in how their physiology will be impacted and trained. The 54 second boy is a different 400m runner than the 54 second girl, so don’t think they can be trained the same (strength, power, stamina levels are not the same and their race paces can be worlds apart).
- Develop power (put a bigger engine in the car). You cannot expect a PT Cruiser to exceed 200 mph by going on 10 and 20 hour endurance drives. The only way you can give the PT the quality of speed is to change the source of its power. You must change that 4 or 6 cylinder engine into a V-10. Getting your sprinter/hurdler more powerful is not merely hitting the weight room and lifting a lot of iron. There are numerous methods available to improve the power performance of your sprinter/hurdler. The weight room is one way, but hills, sand runs, stairs, sleds, hurdle hops, multi-jumps, multi-throws and anything in the “Plyometric” family that ensures high power output in quick turnaround times can and will increase power.
- Improve your sprinter’s/hurdler’s technical model. Anyone can run or jump over an obstacle. But it takes a high level of skill to sprint and to hurdle. The use of sprint drills to improve the “functional” (practical and efficient) development of your sprinters/hurdlers requires attention to detail that makes technique a teachable moment for the coach to show your sprinter/hurdler how to move faster and more skillfully. The functional technical model is even more critical for your newbies and those athletes coming from other sports. If you want them to become more skillful, then technical development must be observed and corrected.
- Develop a repeatable race model. Once functional technical skill has been acquired (now that they can run fast with skill), you can start to move into the specific area of the chosen event (sprint or hurdle). It now becomes easier to teach the race model of acceleration, transition to max velocity, max velocity, and speed maintenance that is similar in the 100, 200, 400 meters and the short and long hurdles.
- Improve their competitive psychology. Making sure you (the coach) are not part of their race anxiety is critical to your young people being able to execute what they have learned. Managing the stress of the other competitors in the race and how ready they feel they are can result in a state meet title or an early elimination in the rounds.
These are the things I have chosen to address every year, but with slight adjustments based on the training age of the individual I have been working with. I also have to determine whether or not progress in one or more areas have improved enough so I can spend more time in one section and less in another.
Related article by Tony Veney: Specific Development Drills for the Sprint Hurdles
Every race has a “Critical Zone” (coined by Wilbur Ross in the 70’s) where the medals are decided and heroes and goats are born.
The last 25% of the 100m, 100mH, 110mHH, 200m, 300mLH, 300mIH, 400m, 400mLH, and the 400mIH is where greatness shows up. Everyone that gets a lane can run the first 75% of any of these races. Races involving regional, state, national, World, and Olympic finals include 8-9 individuals all aspiring to win the ultimate prize. However, only a few have what it takes exemplified by the number of medals offered at every major championships from the Bantam Junior Olympics to the World Championships.
Event Critical Zone
100 meters 80 meters to the wire
200 meters 150 meters to the wire
300m hurdles last two hurdles
400 meters last 80-100 meters
400m hurdles last two hurdles
What then allows the better sprinters to run the last 25% better than the others and win the prize? Sometimes it’s just having picked better parents. But there are 1000’s of genetically superior kids out there who always seem to “spit the bit” when 10 steps from the finish there are still 4 sprinters/hurdlers fighting for 3 medals.
They must be trained so they have planned the race (at practice) and race the plan (on meet day).
The key is making sure you have modeled their race to allow them to execute the race they have been prepared to run.
In my Level II Master Hurdle class, I speak of the differences between coaching and being the athlete. The coach is a goal oriented individual who works tirelessly to achieve a time. The athlete must be kept away from this world and live in process orientation, that teaches them how to run each step and hurdle each hurdle a certain way, and when each step/hurdle is blended together……………….you get the time!
It’s OK to talk about time and set goals with your sprinters/hurdlers. But showing up at the state meet, or whatever their “IT” meet may be and telling them they are ready to run a time takes them away from the process/practice.
Have you ever run fast and it didn’t feel fast, or ran slow when you thought you had nailed it? If the race feels slow to them, they will abandon their focus on the whole race if you tell your girl hurdler she is ready to run 13.60. She will forget everything that has prepared her to run 13.60 and all she can think about is the finish line instead of the process of a great start, sprinting over 10 sticks and the run in and dip on the line. That’s what 13.60 will feel like to her, not just telling her to run a time. And once she does it, just tell her to keep doing that over and over again and she will be successful.
After you tell her she’s ready to run that time, what happens if she has a poor start or hits 2-3 hurdles? Does she think the race is over? More than likely she already feels defeated if these things happen.
But if you have prepared her for the eventuality of racing; like a bad start or a hurdle hit as part of the event, those things could happen anyway and she might run 13.40! That’s what preparation is all about. That’s what Race Modeling is.
Tony Veney is the head track and field coach at Ventura Community College in Ventura, CA.