I was dismayed when I walked onto the pool deck yesterday and the coach announced it was "Fast Friday." This is the kind of workout I typically despise – 100 meter sprints with lots of rest. The object, of course, is to go all out on all of them (I have always had a problem with the term all out. If you go all out on the first one, you shouldn't have anything left for the rest of the set). For as long as I have been a swimmer, sprint workouts have been my Achilles heel. The lactate builds quickly with my arms and legs burning in protest at the effort and sometimes I barely eke out times faster than a longer set on shorter rest. It is ridiculous that a set of 10x100 with some hard 50’s kick interspersed is more tedious and painful than a set of 3x1000, but for my metronome style, it is. When the workout was over, satisfied with my performance and the gains that it will bestow, I thought about the importance of doing workouts that take us so far out of our comfort zone.
It is natural to focus on what we excel, whether it is a sport of choice or a favorite workout. The immediate gratification is undeniable, and why toil away at something in which the progress is slow or the dividends are far off? Historically, my favorite workouts have been the long ones. I love long rides and runs and have no problem diving into the pool for a 3000 meter straight swim. For me, the toughest workouts are short repeats on the track or high wattage workouts on the bike, and as Friday reminded me, 100 meter all out swimming. No matter how often I do these workouts, my lungs and legs scream. Yet, week in and week out, against my protests, Dr. Phil incorporates these types of sessions into my program.
Sprint workouts are not for Olympic distance racers only. There is no doubt that shorter, faster workouts enhance your ability to race fast at any distance. Sprinting, in all three sports, increases your durability and leaves you with a range of speeds that can be summoned when needed. In swimming, having extra speed at the beginning of the race or to bridge a gap to a pack just beyond your reach is imperative. That steep hill in the middle of the bike portion (think of the Beast in St. Croix) requires power that is well beyond your tempo pace, and having that training behind you can be the difference between riding your bike and walking it up the hill. Need to sprint down the chute for that Kona spot? Prepare your legs in training.
It is easy to dismiss these types of workouts, especially in the midst of a long distance training block. But, even in a high volume phase, making time for workouts that challenge you will pay dividends on race day. Start off with very short repeats and add to them over time. Take enough rest between repeats to fully recover, replenish your body well after the workout and take it a little easier the next day. Not only will you get faster, but adding the varying intensity to your program makes it more interesting.