The recently retired Haile Gebrselassie is arguably the greatest distance runner of all-time, having held world records ranging from 2,000 meters to the marathon at one time or another over the course of his incredible career, not to mention two Olympic gold medals and numerous victories in global championships and other major competitions.
One of the diminutive Ethiopian’s greatest strengths—like many of his countrymen—was his blazing finishing speed, often closing out 5,000 and 10,000m track races with a final 200 meters in the range of 25 or 26 seconds. Despite being fairly reticent about the specific details of his training, Gebrselassie did traditional speed work throughout the year—hitting the track for intervals, forest trails for fartlek sessions and the roads for long tempo runs—but a known regular inclusion in his weekly schedule, regardless of his specific training focus, was a set of 10 100-meter sprints.
As part of regular high volume training weeks, Gebrselassie would do 10 100-meter sprints following two to three of his easy training runs. That’s up to 3,000 meters, or just shy of 2 miles, of sprinting every week for a number of years in addition to his more race-specific speed work. As is custom with Ethiopian training protocols, Gebrselassie would build up speed for 50-60 meters and finish with 40-50 meters of close to all-out sprinting, followed by a full recovery after each repetition. In addition to a series of “countless sets of sprint drills—butt kicks, high knees, bounds and hops” (according to Jim Denison’s The Greatest: The Haile Gebrselassie Story), this supplementary workout—most often done on a track—helped improve his speed and explosiveness, strengthened tendons and connective tissue, and developed his incredible ability to shift into fifth gear at the end of a race.
You don’t need to be a world-record holder to make Haile’s 100-meter sprints work for you. Reap the same benefits by regularly doing a set of 10-20-second sprints on flat ground twice a week after easy runs. Note: You can also do this workout on a slight uphill grade, which will help recruit more muscle fibers while reducing the effects of impact forces on your body.
If you are new to speed work or haven’t done any fast running in a while, start with 2-4 repetitions your first time out and add one per week until you reach 10. Build up speed for 5-10 seconds and finish the final 5-10 seconds at close to a full sprint, making sure to give yourself some extra room to decelerate. Pay close attention to your form and focus on running “tall” and covering ground smoothly with quick, explosive strides. After completing a sprint, rest for 1-2 minutes before beginning your next repetition. These sprints are dynamic in nature and put a ton of stress on your musculoskeletal system, so taking a full recovery between sprints is absolutely necessary. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you do not rush the recovery between repetitions.
As mentioned earlier, this is a supplementary workout and serves as a good primer for your more traditional speed sessions such as fartleks, track workouts or tempo runs. Find a place for Haile’s 100-Meter Sprints in your training schedule throughout the year and continually develop that top-end gear you never thought existed!