distance running success

Distance Running Team Success Factors

There are many factors for successful distance running programs. Three common factors in top distance programs will be examined in this article. First, most programs start a new training cycle with lower intensity running, but speed training is not overlooked. Next, runners must use proper running mechanics based on the intensity, including using sprint mechanics during the surges and the kick. Finally, it is important to emphasize a team atmosphere.

Start with Easy Running and Mix in Speed

Running without recovery for the entire length of the run. Continuous running includes running at one pace or running with pace changes without a break. Continuous running increases oxygen intake allowing the runner to move faster for longer periods before the anaerobic metabolic pathway is engaged. The aerobic system must be able to supply an adequate amount of oxygen to the muscles.  

Extensive or low intensity training is when the heart rate at or below 130 beats per minute. Easy running is often used to build the aerobic foundation with general endurance training and as recovery work between more intense sessions.

Starting a program with easy running is the best method to build an aerobic foundation of the season. The training plan will gradually lengthen the duration of the runs to build the endurance base for future training.

Speed training is not as prominent for distance runners, however, it is important to train event related speed even during the start of a new training year. Distance runners need to train for speed at least once a week year round with speed workout similar to the kick of a race or a surge during a longer race.

The Kick

Being prepared for all types of scenarios during a competition is part of proper preparation for athletes and coaches on the track.

Being physically ready and mentally ready for any challenge during a race comes from training various race tactics.

Races will come to down who has the best closing speed or who can hang on the longest after taking the lead.

Despite the methods used, the runner needs to believe they are prepared and can accomplish what is needed at the end of the race. Runners must have confidence from the training plan to go along with physical preparation.

Distance runners cannot run the same as sprinters during long races but they can develop proper sprint mechanics during the kick and surges. 

Running Mechanics

Proper biomechanics for distance running is important to maximize the body’s energy and help prevent injury. Teaching proper running form and making technical adjustments are critical factors in developing the highest level of performance.

Keys to Proper Running Form


  • Look straight ahead with the chin slightly down
  • Keep face relaxed and loose


  • Keep tall
  • Square shoulders
  • Keep the body in-line

Arm Action

  • Hands to shoulder height on the forward swing motion
  • Elbows back to the hip
  • Forward and back, avoid any cross body motion
  • Hands cupped but loose


  • Strike the with the middle of the foot
  • Land the foot directly under the body
  • Bring the knee and toe up
  • Lift the heel to the hamstring
  • Be active driving off the ground with each stride

 Distance Running Tips For The Kick and Surges

Train for speed at least once a week year round; use short distance similar to the kick of a race (200-400 meters)

Use race tactics in smaller meets to force runners to learn how to kick in competition- go out slow and finish strong.

Add sprint training drills and 100 meters build up sprints as part of the warm up and after the main workout

  • Train physical strength and mental toughness
  • Train speed and race tactics all year

Distance Running Like A Sprinter

Top distance runners need to utilize outstanding running mechanics and follow the technical formula for used by sprinters to help with speed development in training and during critical pace changes during a competition.

The positions of the elite distance runners are very similar to the top sprinters, long strides with a full range of motion from the knee drive to the heel going back to the buttock, then reaching for the ground and striking the foot back under the body.

When it comes to distance runners developing speed, and biomechanics are vital to the runner’s success.

Overall, proper running mechanics will help improve performance and reduced the risk of injuries. Distance runners cannot run the same as sprinters during long races but distance runners can develop similar mechanics. 

Technique Advice

Runners must focus on running tall was one of the coaching points repeated by Bill Bowerman legendary coach from the University of Oregon.

Making Changes in Running Technique

Runners that make changes later in their career could be at higher risk for injury, but the long-term benefits can make a significant difference in performance.

Adjusting the running technique is a risk-reward proposition for coaches and athletes: a possible improvement in performance versus a greater risk for injury as the body adapts to the new style.

Mental Readiness

Before the Olympic Games, Galen Rupp said “We’ve been working on my finishing speed a lot. You’ve just got to be ready to sprint and try to save as much energy as you can during the race so you can use it in the last little bit.”

Galen Rupp reflected after earning the Silver Medal at the Olympic Games in the 10,000-meter run:

“You always have doubts during a race. When those came up tonight, I just reminded myself of all the training I’ve done. We’d done a ton of speed work in the last weeks. I knew the speed was there.”

Team Dynamics

by Joel Pearson USATF Level III Certified Coach

Areas often overlooked in coaching high school distance runners have nothing to do with workouts, drills, or exercises. The most important intangible for high level success is "expectations." No matter what the sport, the coaches who produce championship teams every year are those who truly "expect" the athletes to succeed. While some are hoping to place high in their respective league championships, the kids in the top programs are certain that they have a chance to win the state or national championship.

Former Mead High School (Spokane, WA) coach Pat Tyson always started out the cross country season with the statement, “We are going to be state champions this fall.” That actually happened 16 times during his 23 years at Mead. Expecting to win was the key.

Another non-running key to success is for the coach to ensure that all members of the team feel important. The best athletes in all sports gain the most recognition, but cross country is a unique sport where the slowest runner may never outrun anyone, yet that runner can work hard and at the least improve.

A good coach will note kids with these improvements and create a team with all sorts of winners.


  • Start with easy continuous running but don't neglect speed
  • Using proper running mechanics
  • Create a team focused environment


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