Should I make sprinting part of my marathon training?

Sprinting is a great tool for runners to increase performance and help get past plateaus and mental roadblocks.

You may think that because you are training for a distance race like a marathon or half marathon that you should pace yourself and run at a slow moderate pace. That is partially true. I’ve found that many runners try to incorporate sprinting into their training routines as a way to increase overall endurance.  In this post, we’ll explore how sprinting can be a powerful training tool when executed properly.

What is sprinting?

To clear up confusion, let’s first define sprinting. A sprint is a short-distance, high-intensity run. What does that mean for you? It means you take your current running pace, however fast or slow it is and take it up a notch. If you are currently running longer distances at a 20-minute mile pace, run for 30 seconds at an 18-minute mile pace. Then walk for a minute, then do it again.  Over time increase your speed and your duration.

Physiology lesson

This type of high intensity training is one of the just a few ways that you’ll be able to enhance something called, fast-twitch muscle fibers. Here’s a quick physiology lesson. Your body has several different muscle fibers, mixed between fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers. These slow-twitch fibers are used mostly during long training runs and other steady endurance exercise. The more you build up your fast-twitch fibers through speed work the better off you’ll be. During a long-distance race like a half marathon or marathon, having trained your fast-twitch muscles will allow them to help sustain you when your slow-twitch fibers are running out of gas.

Slow twitch muscle fatigue

You will really notice this when you’re nearing the finish line and your slow-twitch muscles are at the peak of fatigue.  At this point, you’re operating on sheer will and some help from your fast-twitch muscles to get to the end. By training your body to draw that kind of reserve even when already fatigued will be extremely beneficial for you come race time.

Downsides of sprinting

So, we’ve covered the advantages of adding sprinting to your marathon training. Are there also downsides to sprinting? Going too hard too fast can result in injuries like knee and ankle pain, or shin splints.  What about neurological?  Science has shown that sprinting can be incredibly stressful on your central nervous system. Why you may ask? It is due to the tremendous number of signals sent by the nervous system to the muscles during fast twitch contraction.  Your brain is on overdrive.


Because the central nervous system is the control room for everything in your body you have to be careful about going too heavy on your fast-twitch muscle workouts and allow for a full and proper recovery time. When you stress your body with speed work it needs some time to recover. This is because a large part of recovery happens within the nervous system, and your body uses a lot of energy to repair it.

Space out sprinting workouts

The ideal situation is to spread out these intensive workouts. Don’t do high-intensity sprint work on back-to-back days. You may feel fine physically the day after a sprinting workout, but that does not mean that you are ready to go again.

Less is more

During training, I can get a false sense of security and add to more speed workouts into the week than my body can handle. As you can imagine, this rarely works out well. When it comes to sprint training at high intensities, less is more. Sprint workouts should be one or two days a week.

Speed work and sprinting final thoughts

Sprinting is a great training addition for your long-distance races. Along with your weekly long run, speed work will help build endurance that you’ll definitely notice come race day. Start adding sprints to your weekly regimen and I’m confident that you will see some amazing results.