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Why We Sprint at XC Practice

We'll incorporate some short hill sprints into practice on Monday this week. From the pen of Coach Reese, here is an attempt to educate our athletes about the role that sprinting plays during the XC season:

Why we sprint during XC practice

There isn’t a 100 meter dash through mud during the XC season, or a 200 meter race over hay bales at Nike Portland XC (although both would be pretty fun). Why, then, are we spending valuable time during XC practice doing things that sprinters do (such as A skips, B skips, and all-out sprints)?

The answer is simple: the neuromuscular skills, mechanical awareness, and reactive strength that we gain from sprint-oriented training will improve our ability to run faster and more efficiently at all speeds. And, when points are on the line in the last 200 meters of a 5K, the runner who can shift into ‘sprint mode’ has a significant advantage over the runner who can’t.

The good news is that running fast is a skill that we can learn and, even better, it isn’t hard work. In fact, it’s as easy as teaching our brains and bodies to apply more force to the ground when we run, and to do so in a way that does not increase ground contact time (think cheetahs not elephants, although elephants are faster than you’d think). Our sprint drills are designed to do this in a relatively slow and controlled way, and our short sprints give us the opportunity to teach our brains and bodies what speed feels like in the real world.

A few videos to illustrate:

Getting More Speed Out of Our Legs (

From PBS/Nova and made for a general audience. A bit corny in places, but gets the point across. Please, please do not try to run like David Pogue.

Linking Running Motion to Ground Force (

From the SMU Locomotor Lab and made for a more academic/coaching audience (or maybe for IB Sports/Exercise nerds). Note the difference during ground contact between David Oliver (sprinter--pretty stiff/firm during ground contact) and Ryan Hall (marathoner--a bit more ‘give’ during ground contact). Keep in mind that these characteristics correlate with pace and can change throughout a race; Ryan Hall would be more forceful and firm at a faster pace and especially when finishing a 5K.

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