( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Before the days of organised athletics, runners were heard of who had the reputation of being able to beat their opponents at any distance. In the present days of highly specialised effort, a runner who essays all distances is likely to prove the master of none. One never hears today of a sprinter who can perform well at long distances, or of a long-distance runner who is anywhere near the front rank of sprinters; and the few all-round athletes who appeared in the early days of the athletic movement would, if they had been competing today, have been compelled to devote them-selves to one particular class of distance if they desired to acquire championship honours. Nowadays, a runner is either a sprinter-that is, accustomed to run from 100 yards up to 300 yards at full speed-in which case the limit of his special abilities will probably be a quarter of a mile at the outside-or he may run the middle distances-that is, from a quarter to a half mile; or he may be a long-distance runner, with distances from a mile upwards. Men cannot, of course, be measured by exact standards, and he who can run a mile well and heĽ who can run a quarter may often meet together on even terms at a half ; but for purposes of rough classification, to divide runners into the three classes of sprinters, middle-distance men, and long-distance men, is to draw the dividing lines as closely as nature will allow them to be drawn.
Sprinting is the name given to the running of short distances at " full burst." Sprinting is perhaps more popular, both with spectators and athletes, than any other class of race, and a sprint handicap at 120 or 150 yards is likely to produce the largest entry of all at a sports meeting. But although the number of mediocre sprinters is large, the number of really fine sprinters is very small, and it is seldom that a man reaches his best form until after two or three seasons of steady practice.
Success in sprinting comes more from the rapid repetition of the stride by bringing up the legs quickly than from artificial attempt to lengthen the stride. The more the runner practises "bursts" of speed the more he will find that his stride is naturally lengthening by his striding from the hips and not from the knees. The natural sprinter is nearly always a man of big thighs and strong back, and the capacity for attaining to really first-class form consists in being able to "put one's back into it," and to keep up a prolonged and vehement burst at high pressure throughout the whole distance one has to go. A great practical exponent of sprinting once expressed an opinion that to win a sprint one should "run like a madman." There is some truth in this : the sprinter has to learn to keep up an abnormal burst of speed or he will be left behind.
To come to practical directions, the sprinter must continually practise short bursts of speed ; he must stride well from the hips so as to lose not an inch of his stride ; should run as straight as an arrow goes from the bow; and should be careful not to throw his shoulders too far back, as this tends to shorten the stride : the rest must be left to natural capacity and to assiduous practice.
It is of immense importance to a sprinter to start quickly. Until about seven years ago the received method of starting was for the runner to stand on his toes with the right foot seven or eight inches behind the left foot so that it could be brought up quickly for the first stride, the body being kept square to the starting-line. Of late years most sprinters have taken to starting with both hands resting lightly on the starting-line. When the pistol is fired, the runner gathers himself up and darts forward, at the same time rising to the perpendicular. There can be no doubt that the new style is efficacious, as it is now almost universally adopted. It has undoubtedly rendered the starting of sprint races much easier and fairer, for while the runner has his hands on the ground he cannot "break away," from the mark, and if a runner "breaks away," he is, under, the A.A.A. rules, put back a yard.
Frequent practising at starts and bursts and an occasional run over the full distance he is training for, should be the regular work of the sprinter ; above all, he should never run alone, but have some one to sprint with him. When a man sprints alone, he often gets slow and sluggish without noticing it.
A sprinter must do his best, by one form of exercise or another, to get hard and muscular without getting stiff; for stiffness is fatal to speed. It is undoubtedly a good thing to be well rubbed over the back and legs after each day's practice.
On the day of his race, the sprinter should always take a short "burst" on his way down to the starting post to warm the muscles.
Sprinting requires at least as many weeks' practice as any other form of running; a month, at shortest, is necessary to acquire one's best form.
Middle Distances-The Quarter Mile-A great many sprinters, after a little experience and with careful training, develop into fine quarter-milers. In fact, when a man is running four hundred and forty yards in less than 50 seconds, as many amateur runners have done and can do, he must obviously go at full speed nearly every yard of the distance. But there are many runners who are but indifferent sprinters and yet can do marvellous performanCes at a Quarter. The two best quarter milers of the present day, E. C. Bredin, of the London Athletic Club, and W. Fitzherbert, of the Cambridge U.A.C., are each of them good enough on their day to beat 49 seconds for a Quarter Mile, and yet as sprinters they are barely in the second rank. The same remark applied to L. E. Myers, the American, and H. C. L. Tindall, of Cambridge, the two best amateur quarter-milers of their day. From this it appears that it is fairer to describe a Quarter Mile as one of the middle distances, for all the men I have mentioned could run equally well at Six Hundred Yards and at Half a Mile. Still, the fact remains that in the Quarter Mile races two runners of an entirely different class often meet ; the sprinter, who is strong enough to struggle home over a Quarter, and the middle-distance man, who is running his own distance.
The training for the distance should be entirely different for the two classes of men. The sprinter must be careful not to overdo himself and thus get jaded and slow, but he should frequently run spurts of three hundred yards, or thereabouts, to get used to prolonged effort, and must be very careful in his diet so as to preserve every ounce of his staying power. The regular middle-distance man must train differently : he is usually a lighter man than the sprinter, and he can stand more hard work, but when once he has got moderately fit, what he requires most is speed, and he must assiduously practice sprinting and starting to improve his speed.
Again, when it comes to running the race, the sprinter must use different tactics to the middle-distance runner. He must use his pace when he has got it, that is at the beginning of the race, for after he has covered the third of the distance he will find that his power of " making a burst " is all but gone ; the middle-distance man, who can rely on being able to finish out and to keep his stride to the end, wants a pace-maker, some one who will pull him out in the early stages of the race. Let us illustrate these abstract principles by an example. Some of the great struggles of late years at a Quarter Mile have been those between Jordan, of Ox-ford, and Fitzherbert, of Cambridge : their races are and ever will be memorable historic contests. The Oxonian is a fine natural sprinter; the Cambridge man has only learnt to run short distances fast by assiduous practice : he is not a natural sprinter. The tactics for Jordan are to try and get away from his opponent early in the race ; if he does not, his slower opponent can outstride him and cut him down at the finish, as he did in 1895 and 1896. In 1894 Fitzherbert let Jordan get well away from him, and was never able to get up to his shoulder. Many are the races, too, which Bredin has thrown away or jeopardised by starting like a snail, although he can finish like a lion.
The sprinter, then, who wishes to include theQuarter Mile in his repertory must recollect that, although he has to get hard and strong, it is upon his speed that he must rely ; and at all hazards he must retain his dash. He can lay the foundation of his staying powers by walking, which hardens the legs and back, or even by rowing, or by lawn-tennis or any hard exercise ; but when he begins to train for his races, he must be careful not to get slow and stiff by pounding round the path at longer distances. The middle-distance man can train for his Quarter as he trains for the Six Hundred Yards or the Half Mile, of which we shall now proceed to speak.
Six Hundred Yards-This is a very popular distance which is often run. The pure sprinter cannot last the distance, and the middle-distance men have it to themselves, but it is an interesting race, because a Half Mile race attracts many who are really long-distance runners with staying power and no speed except that which comes from a long natural stride; but a Six Hundred Yards race is necessarily confined to middle-distance men alone. To run fast at Six Hundred Yards, the half-miler has to be careful to push himself along either by a pace-maker or by learning by means of a watch-holder how fast he is going the first half of his distance.
The Half Mile Race produces perhaps the most interesting of all athletic contests. It lasts but two minutes, or thereabouts, and therefore cannot grow tedious, and it presents scope for staying power, judgment and spurting. While many long-distance runners can do fine performances at half a mile, they are bound to be outpaced by the really fine middle-distance runner. There are plenty of instances of men who, though good at a Quarter, have not sufficient speed to hold the sprinters, and good at a Mile, yet are unable to keep amongst the first flight of milers, and yet at Half a Mile are magnificent runners. It is unfortunate, therefore, that a Half Mile does not figure in the Oxford and Cambridge programme, as the middle-distance runner has little scope for his abilities at the Universities. There is of course a natural reluctance to interfere with the programme and with the chance it gives to strength, as distinct from speed, in the Weight-Putting, and Hammer-Throwing events, and it is also undoubtedly necessary to have an uneven number of events ; but there are many who would not be sorry to see the number of events increased from nine to eleven by the addition of two races at 220 Yards and Half a Mile.
However, to return to the half-milers. The middle-distance men are bound to have a good 'deal of staying power, and should not be afraid to take a good deal of work. In practising, they must learn to run to a watch, that is, to keep going all through the race by learning to run the first quarter fast. If a man wants to run Half a Mile under two minutes, he should do his first quarter in 58 seconds, and nothing can teach him to know that he is keeping up his pace better than the "running to a watch" held by his trainer. He should frequently run Quarter Miles and Six Hundred Yards in practice, and occasionally the full distance, starting to do his distances slowly when he begins his training, and gradually quickening up as he is approaching fitness and his best form. Nor must he forget to practise bursts of speed, as every runner is the better by improving his pace and by learning to make a sprint, but the main thing a half-miler has to achieve is to go strong and brisk in the early stages of the rate. Many half-milers are inclined to be sluggish in the first stage, and for such the best tactics in a race are to start a runner who will " make the pace " for them. The pace-maker can run his first quarter in fixed time, and he will thereby draw out the half-miler, who will hang not far behind him, until he takes up the running after the half distance. The American, Kilpatrick, who holds the amateur " world's record" for Half a Mile, is rarely known to do a fast time without a pace-maker to draw him out.
The pace-maker in such contests should have orders to run the first quarter in about a second faster than the " crack " requires to do the same distance, and this is pretty sure to produce the. desired effect.
One Thousand Yards and Three Quarters of a Mile are distances occasionally run. Experience has shown that the former is particularly a middle-distance event. Most half-milers can cover the additional 120 yards if called upon. A race at Three Quarters is usually chosen because it makes rather an open thing when agood miler and a good half-miler are matched at a distance which is half way between the two. At this distance the chances are all in favour of the miler, for three quarters of a mile is a distance generally beyond the powers of the middle-distance runner.
Long Distances-All distances from a Mile up to Four Miles are common at meetings at the present day, nor is a Five Miles Race by any means a rarity, and since paperchasing became popular, a Ten Miles Flat Race has formed part of the championship pro-gramme. It is hardly possible to separate long-distance runners into classes, and the only general remark that can be made as to the classification of long-distance men is that the lighter their weight the more likely are they to be able to spin over the long distance. The rules for getting fit for long distances are fairly simple; the runner must get down his weight, and do a lot of work. We do not of course mean to say that cases of men overworking themselves and getting stale are not common enough, but the long-distance runners succeed by their endurance and staying power, and are able to stand a lot of work, and every pound of superfluous flesh will tell in a long race.
It is by no means uncommon for a runner to hold the championship at One, Four, and Ten Miles in the same year, .which should prove the point we contend for, that all long-distance men belong to one class. To win the championships at One and Four Miles in the same year the runner has to do both races in the same after-noon. The Ten Miles championship is run in the spring at the conclusion of the paperchasing season, at which time all the long-distance men are likely Yo be as fit and hard as only paper-chasing can make them.
For a man to work up to his best form in long-distance races he must "run to a watch " in the way we have mentioned before. His trainer (or he himself after a season or two, for every man should soon learn to gauge his own strength and health) can judge on each particular day whether he should do a little more or a little less work, for this depends on the state of a man's health. It is a fatal mistake to attempt to get fit by doing too much work in a limited number of days. A slow and steady increase of work, which means doing the distance selected at a gradually increased pace, is the safest plan for success.
The runner who confines himself to the Mile race only must possess some considerable speed. The first quarter in a Mile championship is often covered in a minute or thereabouts. In 1885, when the amateur record was made by F. E. Bacon, the first quarter was covered in 58 seconds, and the first half mile in 2 minutes 5 seconds. As the distances get longer, scope is given to the man whose capacity consists almost entirely in being able to keep pegging away. But for all long-distance running the road to success consists in steady training, a quantity of work and a rigid dietary.