Track & Field Favorite Running Drills
By Dave DeCou, Head Boys’ Track Coach, Head Boys and Girls’ Cross Country Coach,
Marcellus (MI) High School
As a track and cross-country coach, I am always looking for ways to get my runners to duplicate in practice the intensity and focus of the race. For the great runners, this may not be a problem. However, most runners need motivation to reach a high level of performance. I believe that intensity and concentration in practice will lead ultimately to improvement in performance.
Over the years, we have used a number of drills that accomplish this. They motivate the runners to achieve a high level in practice, and force all the runners to focus their attention on their events.
We are a small school (around 300 total students); with a limited number of talented runners, so avoiding injury is a primary concern for us. We use high intensity training only on a limited basis.
1. Repeat 500’s: The athletes run repeat 500 meter runs, but with a twist. They do not run all out on the repeats. Instead, they run the first 400 at “race” pace, and at the 400 mark they must “get up on their toes” and go into an all-out sprint for the last 100 meters.
This drill has been very helpful for a number of reasons. First, it forces the runners, especially younger runners, to develop a sense of pace. We insist that the first lap be run with a full stride. With 400 and 800 runners, we encourage a first lap at around 60-62 second pace. Milers run around 70 second pace and two-milers around 80 second pace.
Although we are rather loose with the pace, we time the athletes and encourage them to hit the “race pace” that they need. At the 400 mark, we really get after the runners to sprint all out on the last 100 meters.
Usually we will have the athletes complete two or three of these repeats. We don’t start the second until they have recovered from the first and their heart rates have gone back toward normal.
This is an excellent time for the coach to instruct runners about proper running form and to get runners in the habit of using it. Athletes seem more receptive to instruction when that instruction increases the rest time between runs.
This drill also forces runners to recognize the difference between running and sprinting.
Just as in a race, runners must shift into sprint technique at the end. We insist that they finish the race strong and maintain the sprint until they have crossed the finish line.
In effect, this drill is an elongated 100-meter dash, and you can use it with your entire team.
We have used it with distance runners, sprinters, field-events people, and even with our throwers.
It works well with both boys and girls, and we often run them together.
2. 800-Meter Indian Run: We use this drill for both track and cross-country, and it is a variation on an old, familiar exercise. We have used it for anywhere between five and 15 runners.
It works well for both boys and girls, and in cross-country we have them run this drill as one unit.
The basic idea of the exercise is to line up the runners single file and begin an 800-meter run.
When the first runner in line gives the verbal signal, the last runner sprints to the front and assumes the lead position. Every runner, in turn, runs from the back of the pack to the front and takes the lead. This is the standard form for the Indian Run.
However, we add another dimension to the drill by giving the group an 800-meter time to shoot for. For example, we might say that we want every runner to complete the 800 meters in single file and under two minutes forty seconds. This time factor puts pressure on the slower runners to keep up the pace and not let the team down. It pressures all runners to maintain a pace that enables the group to finish in the prescribed time and yet to also maintain a good “Indian file” line.
This is an excellent drill for both cross-country, where we want the slower runner to keep up with the faster ones, and for distance relay teams, where we want every runner to keep the team in a position to win the race.
Our slower runners really hate this drill, because it forces them to keep up. If you can hit or exceed the stated goal, it is great for team morale. It’s therefore important to set the goal at a mark that is achievable for everyone and yet fast enough to challenge your faster runners.
3. Handicap Run: This is a drill that we use for cross-country runners. It covers a 5000-meter course. In order to run this drill you need 5000-meter race times from all of your runners. The basic idea is to handicap the race so that your slowest runner starts first and your fastest runner starts last.
The amount of head start that each runner receives is based on their best 5000-meter race time. For example, if your top runner has a best time of 17:40 and your slowest runner has a best time of 27:40, then the slowest runner receives a 10-minute head start. Each of the other runners will receive a head start based on their best times. The following chart gives you an idea of how much head start each runner receives:
To make this drill work properly, the 5000-meter times must be fairly accurate for each runner, and therefore it is best to run this about mid-season.
This is a good drill for building confidence in all runners. The runners with the slower times feel that they have a chance to win the race and beat all of the faster people. The runners with the faster times are challenged to pass people and run near their best time in practice.
Of course, if everyone matches their best times, all of the runners will finish at the same time. Our slower runners tend to like this drill, because it gives them a chance to win, and our faster runners tend not to like it because it forces them to run fast times in practice.
4. Relay Drills – Jog & Sprint Handoffs: Unlike the other running drills, we practice sprint relay handoffs every day of the season. In Michigan, we run both the 400 (4 X 100) and 800 (4 X 200) relays in every track meet, and so our runners must develop the skill and timing necessary to pass the baton effectively. This requires repetition in practice.
The problem is that if you run the race at full speed, you may not be able to complete more than two repetitions before you lose the concentration of the runners due to fatigue.
On the other hand, running the exchanges only on the straightaway saves the runners from being fatigued, but it does not duplicate race conditions.
We solved this problem some years ago by doing what we call “jog & sprint” relay handoffs.
We have the four runners start at the same exchange zone that they will occupy during the race.
The leadoff runner will then jog from the starting line to a point approximately 30-35 yards from the #2 runner. At that point, the leadoff runner will slowly transition from a jog to a dead sprint through the baton exchange.
Once the #2 runner has successfully received the baton and cleared the exchange zone, he will gradually slow to a jog. The process is then repeated between #2 and #3, and #3 and #4. After the anchorman successfully receives the baton, he jogs the stick back to the leadoff runner at the start line.
We have found this drill to be very successful for a number of reasons. First, we duplicate race conditions during the sprint baton exchanges. At the beginning of the season, we may have the runners go through this drill five or six times in order to get full speed, full extension baton exchanges.
Second, the baton passes are made in the same conditions that will occur during the race. Third, because they are running the exchanges at top speed, this is an excellent sprint workout.
Some special conditions present themselves in running these exchanges for the 800 relay. First, because it is time-consuming to have the runners jog the entire 200 leg, we allow then to cut across the infield after they receive the baton. Second, because finishing a 200 leg is different from finishing a 100 leg, it is necessary for each runner to “take something off” his speed at the time of the 800 relay exchange. This is sometimes a difficult concept for our freshmen to understand, but they gradually develop it with practice.
At the beginning of the season, we have every member on the team practice these sprint relay exchanges regardless of what event is their specialty and regardless of how fast they are. This means that every member on our team (we average around 35 boys each year) has had some experience in making sprint relay passes, and any of them could fill in on the relay team if it becomes necessary.
When we practice these handoffs, we may also have an additional relay unit or two practice along with the varsity foursome. Again, you never know who may have to run on these relay teams during the meet.
Another thing that we do with this relay drill is force our throwers (shot and discus) to run these exchanges at the end of practice. Some years we may have as many as fifteen or sixteen weight men.
We form them into “big beef” relay teams, and we often have them run exhibition races in the track meets. Our weight men get pretty excited about these races, and some of them are very good at making the baton passes. Because speed has no preordained size or shape, we sometimes find fast sprinters among our shot putters. In addition, the throwers love to run this drill, and they eagerly run these 30-35 yard sprints.
5. Hurdle Drills: Another drill that I have found to be very helpful is for hurdlers. I learned this from the late J.W. Polk, assistant track coach at Albion (MI) College. Mr. Polk always insisted that the 110 high hurdle race was very difficult for all runners, and that the reason that hurdlers hit so many of the last hurdles was that they were not conditioned to running full flights of high hurdles.
Many hurdlers will practice by running over three or four hurdles in practice, and so when it comes to running full flights in meets they have trouble with the last three hurdles.
To combat this, we have all of our hurdlers run at least one full flight of high hurdles every day in practice. We generally have more than one high hurdler, and so we have them run this full flight as a race. We may also have our girls run a full flight of 100-meter hurdles at the same time.
There are many benefits from this drill. First, it forces the hurdlers to run a full flight of hurdles under race conditions. Second, it forces the hurdlers to concentrate on their own hurdles and not look at the runners (boys or girls) in the other lanes. High hurdles force the runners to have good hurdling technique, and so we have both our high and intermediate hurdlers run this high hurdle drill.
We have successfully used all of these drills in our high school program. They are not the be all and end all for our program, but the drills are practical, easy to administer, and they work.