“Technique without ideals is a menace; Ideals without technique is a mess.” – Karl Llewellyn 


I’ve been asked a time or two to provide examples of how best to quantify a sprinting bout performed on an unmarked field.  The methods of doing this are, of course, limited only by your imagination.  Here’s one example, though, of an approach I took recently.

I went into this particular session wanting to hit a sprint bout that was roughly equal to my 15/15 in 15 workout.  Easy enough; stopwatch and a marked football field, and I’m good to go.  However, I ended up on an unmarked field and with no way to accurately judge 100 yards. No big deal; just another opportunity to improvise. So, following a solid warm-up, this is what I did:

I set initial mark with a “90%”, 13 sec sprint. This wasn’t a “stride”, but rather a pretty ballsy effort. After a relatively long (about 3 minutes or so) recovery, I then jumped on the 15/15 in 15, just as if that initial 13 second mark were actually set at 100 yards. My slowest times of the later 15 were in the 14.6 range, so this arrangement worked out pretty well.

Note: my body and the energy systems required to fuel my efforts could care less whether those efforts were 12 seconds or 20 seconds in duration.  Really, it’s the intensity that mattered.  The percent contribution between the aerobic and anaerobic systems remain roughly the same, and so the actual distance covered here — a few yards off here and there — is of little matter.  Other, of course, than in my mind, which needs this kind of quantification as a way of justifying efforts.  What matters, in the end, is the work output; what matters, over the long-haul, is to keep this trend going.  Funny, though, how we have to play these little games with ourselves.  To question why this is though (as interesting as I think that discussion is), is a subject for navel gazing/coffee shop debate.  I know that to get my mind’s 100% buy-in to this Sisyphean task requires these little tricks, and so I placate as best I can in the moment.  My mind needs a carrot to chase, and so I give it one.

Note #2: looking for an excellent overview of energy systems training?  Check out this discussion, by Joel Jamieson.  And Joel will be at next spring’s PFX13, so be sure to come by and check him out.

By the way, following that sprint bout, I hit 25 muscle-ups in 9:06; way off my best mark. A testament to how a “15s” sprint bout can really dust a brother up.


In health, fitness and ancestral wellness –



  1. Some good guidelines there, but I’m surprised that people would need advice about how to do some running. Even without a watch it can all be estimated very easily, especially if you’re used to doing the workout in a controlled and timed manner. I suspect it’s only a need for someone lacking a bit of confidence in themselves, and worrying about ‘getting it right’.

    I think we should all remember that what matters is doing some training, if it’s a one-off then it doesn’t really matter if it’s slightly off base, and if you need to standardise a workout you can neither measure or time, then as long as you do the same general workout, you’ll be hitting your goals (as long as you’re working hard enough, of course!).

    Thanks for the post,

    • Totally with you, brother. In a physiological sense, the need to quantify is, of course, of limited value (in a do nothing/do something context). From a psychological standpoint, the stopwatch (and quantifying in general), takes the place of the predator/prey — it’s something to motivate us to bust arse, when our overwhelming urge is to kick back and watch the clouds pass overhead.

  2. I agree with you completely. But how can we calculate energy used up (i mean quantify) sprints in various types of geographies? In sandy beaches, rocky areas and in footpaths? All of them give different stresses and tensions to legs and entire body, making it difficult to asses how much work we have done or calories burnt.

    • The bottom line is, you can’t. No more than we can account for wind, temperature, etc. over the same terrain. But then again, attempting to quantify these variances just over complicates matters. Just engage the environment you find yourself in, to the best of your ability, and leave it at that.

      And take comfort in the fact that calorie burn during the exercise bout itself is of no matter whatsoever, unless we’re talking about an extreme endurance session or event.


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