Measuring what Matters Part 4- Speed Endurance
By Carl Valle
Speed Endurance can be generalized and the ability to sustain a velocity at the end of a sprint race, provided the athlete distributed the effort properly. Speed Endurance is specific not only to the event, but it’s also specific to the program, time of year, and the individual athlete. How much speed endurance and what form is debatable, because the coaching programs will vary and many paths lead to Rome. What is important is that coaches create a consistent and logical system in order to adjust and evolve their respective program.
Speed Endurance Evaluation
Evaluating speed endurance is slightly more complicated than comparing maximal speed and acceleration, because speed endurance includes the aforementioned qualities and often includes the comparison to repeated efforts in practice. Throw in the fact that many sprints are longer or shorter than the race distances and coaches can get lost in endless analysis by factoring countless variables. The list below is hardly complete or exhaustive; it is more than sufficient to cover the bases in regards to appraising speed endurance with sprinters.
Repeatability – Most coaches will include multiple reps of a given distance and corresponding speed to do, and most coaches want the sprinter to do them without dropping off significantly or at all. Sometimes a time trial is a good way to get a workout in, but the ability to repeat an effort consistently creates stable improvement. With many workouts, coaches are looking for a way to stimulate adaptation, not force it on the body.
Distribution – Most of the time the speed endurance rep is at a scaled pace, meaning the sprinter is not going out too hard or too slow. Sometimes the pace is nearly race pace but cut off shorter in order to prepare the athlete for specific race work without exhaustion. In general, most speed endurance reps are smooth runs without any artificial pacing or foreign distribution of energy.
Rhythm – A clean stride rhythm is suggested to prevent dramatic decay in velocity or sudden power drops from fatigue. Maintaining rhythm is a vital part of sustaining velocity as well as reducing fatigue from volitional adjustments that exert a lot of energy. During speed endurance training athletes need to first establish a rhythm early, and sustain the optimal rhythm for that day on each successive rep.
Distance and Volume- Purposely listed last is the most obvious of decisions, what length of run and how many repeat bouts should your athletes run. Not to oversimplify, in general the shorter the distance the faster the sprint and longer the rest period. Sometimes breaking the rules will be appropriate, but generally the shorter distances require more speed in order to prepare the body to handle higher velocities and the accompanying fatigue from byproduct build up.
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While shorter and longer options for 100m and 200m sprinters exist, here are four that I am most familiar and comfortable with. Note that the longer the run, the less likely one is to use blocks since the velocities tend to drop. Sometimes blocks are good options to get people more comfortable when in the competitive season draws closer. Most coaches do 3-5 reps of a selected distance, but one can mix distances if they see that creates a response they are looking for.
120m speed endurance- The standing 120m run is a great way to improve the 100m race by simulating the work done in the 100m in practice without the pure speed of the event. Practically speaking, races are the best ways to prepare for races, provided the athlete is prepared for the competition phase. Many times athletes like doing a rep or two after doing long acceleration work in practice as a mental and physiological finisher. Some coaches don’t allow athletes to bother traveling or racing until what they believe is a sufficient time is reached in the 120m, but that is more of a philosophical belief than physiologically supported.
150m speed endurance- One of my favorite workout tools to use with sprinters and hurdlers is the classic 150m distance. What is special about this distance is that it’s fast enough to get great speed work for the 200m but is safe enough to do it without fear of pulling up with a muscular strain. The 150m distance is short enough to create an aggressive practice and athletes can see if they are able to get close to peaking. Like the 120m event being a sign of readiness to compete in the 100m, the 150m is a sign they are likely ready to achieve top form.
185m Speed Endurance- I have used this unique distance many times as a workout to see if and athlete is ready to run a solid 200m. Each athlete and each program must adjust the time difference between a 185 sprint and 200m time. If they can do three reps at near max speed, I find that athletes will run a time similar to what they can do in this, later in the year. This may be a casual relationship in my own program but I do think some distances and workouts are very predictive to the 200m. I am under the school of thought that time trialling the actual distance never seems to be productive because athletes tend to pace the same, slower, or foolish rates for them even in practice, leading to poor results for the training session.
250m Speed Endurance- Sometimes the body can’t handle the stresses of sprinting, specifically the joints and tendons. The 250m distance allows for coaches to get out of spikes and get quality work done but give the athletes a break. This distance can be used in two unique ways but other combinations have helped both the 100m and 200m sprinter. The first option is to do 6x250m intensive tempo runs with 150m walk at a speed they can sustain over 6 periods. The lactate accumulation is often referred to as a slow death because each rep creates an incomplete recovery of the body but the velocity is the same. Another option is to do 3 x 250s smooth and that tends to challenge the athlete to handle the backstretch of races mechanically (technical execution) although the physiological similarities are not exactly the same.
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Speed Endurance Summary
At first glance, speed endurance seems like a clear way to gage potential, predict race performance, and train sprinters. The art of coaching is making sure what looks good on paper works in practice and that starts with small adjustments to the annual plan each year. The longer sprints enable sprinters to put all the phases together, but meets still provide the only true environment for this and that’s why a good combination of practice and scheduling is recommended to fully develop. The speed endurance workouts provide a great technical opportunity for athletes to get immediate feedback of learning to relax under discomfort, something that tends to transfer nicely to top speed development. Finally, the speed endurance gives a sprinter a nice way to merge all of the qualities of a race in one workout.
Previous articles in this series:
Measuring What Matters – Guidelines to Evaluating Practice Times
Measuring What Matters Part 2 – Acceleration
Measuring What Matters Part 3 – Maximal Speed
Carl Valle is a USATF level II Sprints and Hurdles Coach and has worked with several olympians and coached athletes at all levels to dozens of school records and conference championships. He blogs for Elitetrack.com and optimizes technology for athlete performance.
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