A well-planned race strategy and a good jump out of the blocks will undoubtedly improve your chances of winning the 100-meter sprint. But if you’ve ever watched the world’s fastest men or women go head to head in this particular race, you know that the outcome is decided in the last 30 to 40 meters—because that’s when one blazing-fast soul usually pulls away from the rest of the field, which suddenly seems to be hardly moving. So really, everything comes down to who’s got the strongest final gear.
How fast can you go?
During a 100-meter sprint, you reach max speed about 30 meters deep and must maintain it for the next 70 meters. Since this constitutes the majority of the race, increasing your max speed will obviously impact how you finish. Curtis Frye, head coach of the South Carolina men’s and women’s track teams and assistant coach for the 2004 Olympic women’s track team, is one of the best at building the most impressive max speeds ever recorded.
“There are two types of sprinters trying to improve,” says the 2001 Nike Coach of the Year. “You have guys who are slow and trying to get fit in order to get faster. Then there are the guys who are already fit, have already run some good times and have the propensity to be good sprinters. The approach to getting these people faster is much different; they should look to increase the max speed they can produce.”
Frye explains the best way to take an already elite sprinter to off-the-chart levels: “Improve his max speed by working on his mechanics,” he says. “We focus on the position your body needs to be in when you are getting up to and maintaining your max speed.”
Several current and past SC sprinters have benefited from Frye’s methods; and many are making names for themselves at the collegiate and international levels. One of his recent Gamecocks, Rodney Martin, took home the Bronze Medal in the 200m at the 2006 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, while former teammate Leroy Dixon shared a spot in the finals.
Terrence Trammel, a former National Athlete of the Year and one of Frye’s most impressive alums, is a two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 110m hurdles [’00, ’04] and two-time Indoor World Championship gold medalist in the 60m hurdles [’01, ’06].
On the women’s side, Frye is currently working with sophomore sprinter Shalonda Solomon, who ran an impressive freshman campaign. The 4x400m relay national champ and USA Outdoor Track and Field Championship 200m silver medalist will play a key role in helping Frye and the rest of the women’s squad continue their dominance as potential national champions in the years to come.
Frye coaches his sprinters to achieve perfect body position when getting up to and maintaining top speed. He then reinforces that body position with drills that force the athlete into using proper mechanics.
Key points on body mechanics in the:
• Keep chest down and out in front of body
• Stay in line
• Preserve good shin angle—shin back and behind driving knee
• Stand tall and form a right angle with chest and lead leg, so that front thigh is parallel to the ground
• Step over knee with opposite foot
• To prevent overstriding, keep lead foot behind and underneath lead knee
• Strike ground with foot behind center of gravity. Do not use butt-kick-style leg motion
Before your season, perform the following on-track drills, adhering to Frye’s coaching points and recommendations. These mechanical teaching tools are for use in the fall; but if you lose your edge during the season, you can come back to them to reinforce your mechanics.
Place two cones 20 yards apart on the track. Begin at one cone and sprint to other. Decelerate and lower your hips as you approach the cone. Touch the ground next to the cone and turn your hips back toward the starting cone. Accelerate into a sprint back to the starting cone.
Progression: After two weeks, place the cones 30 yards apart. Gradually work up to 80 yards.
Coaching Point: Stay in line, keep your chest out in front of your body and maintain a good shin angle during each acceleration
Frye: This drill teaches you to push off of your back leg and stay low coming out of the blocks and during your drive phase. You’re forced to stand vertically when your shin gets out in front of your body. And since the drive phase is all about shin angle, the longer you preserve a good angle behind the knee, the better. With each stride, you’ll lose a bit of the angle; and once you hit 30 meters, your shin angle should be gone, so you’re in max speed position. You can only maintain max speed for 70 meters, so if you lose your shin angle at 20 meters, you’ll end up decelerating in the final stretch of the race.
Progressing through the longer distances helps accelerating and then transitioning into max speed. The longer runs fatigue you, so when you do them in a fresh state [in a race], you will perform at max and hold the position better.
You need 20 flat 18”x4” sticks or strips of tape. Place one every five feet in a ladder formation down the track. Beginning five meters in front of the first stick, run forward. Upon reaching the first stick, sprint over the row of sticks, adhering to proper max speed mechanics so you perform one stride for each stick. Have a coach or teammate time each sprint over the sticks. Walk back to the start and repeat for the specified reps.
Sets/Reps/Rest: 2×5; rest 5 minutes between sets
Progression: Perform twice a week, adhering to distance progression below.
Coaching Point: Strike the ground and pull your foot back into position quickly. As the distance between the sticks grows—and thus the distance of the entire sprint gets longer—you should be able to cover the sticks in the same time as before. If you are unable to hit your time, go back to five feet between all sticks and repeat the progression.
Frye: This is a forced mechanic, as you are compelled to bring your knee up and pull your foot up to step over the next stick. Over time, this teaches a runner to lengthen his stride while keeping the same frequency. There are two elements to increasing speed—stride length and stride frequency. Improving just one of those will make you faster.
Perform a run-up for 30 yards, then run at max speed for another 40 yards. Have a coach or teammate time the max speed portion. Walk back to the line and repeat for the specified reps.
Sets/Reps/Rest: 2×5; rest 3 minutes between sets
Frye: Once we have the mechanics set with the sticks, we remove them to gauge where we are in terms of max speed. The run-in ensures that you are at max speed when you hit the 40 yard sprint, so the timed portion is a true measurement. Use this drill as a way to chart what kind of max speed you can produce. A decent time for a Flying 40 is about half a second less than a regular 40 time. If you are a 4.5-guy, your run-in should be done in 4-flat.