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Distance Races (Further Development)

Improving running mechanics for distance races

Warm-Up Running rewards, building leg strength, circle dynamic stretch
Skill Development Running mechanics (heel recovery, stride length and frequency)
Wrap-Up Game Continuous relay
Prinatble PDF of this Session


Running Rewards

You will need cones and a stopwatch. This exercise integrates some friendly competition to teach runners to identify their goal race pace and how to monitor speed. Determine each runner's goal race time based on time trials, performance history, and your assessment of their potential. Calculate even splits for each runner. Give every runner 100 points. Have students run the split distance. Subtract one point for every second they run faster or slower than their target split. The runner with the most points at the end of the warm-up is declared the most consistent runner. Remind runners they are trying to maintain a pace, not beat it.

Building Leg Strength (5-10 minutes)

Have students form a circle around you, and lead them in leg strength exercises.

See the Supplementary Topic on Muscular Strength and Endurance for appropriate activities. 

Circle Dynamic Stretch (1-3 minutes)

Have students form a circle around you, and lead them in dynamic stretches.

See the Supplementary Topic on Muscular Strength and Endurance for appropriate activities.

Heel Recovery

When running, even at a modest pace, distance runners must work to shorten the recovery leg by bending at the knee and bringing the heel toward the upper hamstring. As athletes get tire, it is common to see very low heel recovery. Tell athletes to land on the lower part of the ball of the foot, drop the heel, and push off the ball of the foot. Do not let their heels "slap" or hit first. They also should not turn their feet out while they run. Tell athletes to listen to themselves while they run—they should not hear anything. Have them practice this technique while walking, jogging, and running.

Stride Length and Frequency

When teaching running technique to young athletes, the focus should be on finding the correct stride length for each athlete's strength level and size. Here are some reminders for your runners:

  • Take off and land on the mid-foot or the balls of the feet.
  • Avoid landing flat-footed, on the heels, or way up on the toes.
  • Choose a stride length that feels natural and comfortable; ideally, the feet should land directly beneath the hips.
  • Avoid under-striding or taking short choppy steps.
  • Avoid over-striding where the foot lands well in front of the body.
  • The components of a longer and faster stride will be exaggerated when sprinting as compared to distance running.
  • Distance runners need to develop the capacity to run faster, but balancing speed with endurance.
Bricks and Feathers

While running, students will follow your directions. Practice being "bricks" (heavy and low to the ground) and "feathers" (light, bounding, and tall). Whether in the "bricks" or "feathers" phase, runners should always be running. In the "bricks" phase, the running may be slow and may resemble stomping, but it should still be running, not walking or marching. In the "feathers" phase, runners should not leap, gallop, or prance on tiptoes.

Wrap-up Game

Continuous Relay

You will need cones, batons, and a stopwatch. Split your runners into at least two evenly-matched teams. Give each team a baton and set up exchange zones along a running loop. Place one runner from each team at each exchange zone, with two runners at the starting position (pick one of them to run first). As runners complete their legs of the loop, their teammates will be recovering from their own leg. The first team to have all of its runners return to their starting positions is the fastest.

Make sure you have at least one more runner per team than there are exchange zones. You need at least three runners per team. Choose distance based on athletic ability and training objectives.

Cool Down

Light Jog (2-5 minutes)

Lead the group on a light jog.

Static Stretching (3-5 minutes)

Have students form a circle around you and lead them in static stretches.

Please see the Supplementary Session on Stretching for additional stretches.

Youth and Schools

New York Road Runners Mission