- Good for mixed-ability groups
- Works speed, acceleration and reaction & response times
- Ideal for groups of 5-8 runners
- Works well in parks, on the running track and roads
Secret surges are an excellent way to have a bit of fun while working on speed, acceleration and reaction & response times.
They're good for introducing new runners to faster work and also for simulating race conditions for more-experienced athletes.
Each person in the group is assigned a secret number by the group leader.
The group runs as a close-knit unit until the leader calls out one of the numbers. The person whose number is called must surge/sprint away from the rest of the group, whose job it is to give chase.
The time spent surging should be short, limited to just a few seconds or until the surger is caught by one of the chasing group. An exception can be made with groups composed of runners of very similar ability who will be able to stay close together during longer surges.
The goal of the surger is not necessarily to run faster than others in the group, but rather to to surprise them and get away from them quickly. For groups where there is a big difference in ability an added element of surprise can be introduced with super secret surges or by allowing surges in any direction.
Ideally 5-8 runners per group. With many more than this congestion can occur and it can become difficult for surgers to position themselves well and for responders to give chase immediately. The session works with fewer runners, but the "secret" element suffers somewhat. See small groups below for versions of the activity that can work well with fewer runners.
Super Secret Surges
An extra element of secrecy can be added by allowing runners to choose how long they wait before surging once their number has been called. They could surge straight away, wait a few seconds, wait ten seconds etc. It might be wise to put a time limit on this.
If you're leading the group it can sometimes be fun to shout a number which has not been assigned and then watch as everybody gets more and more tense waiting for somebody to surge.
Assigning yourself a number can also be a surprise for other runners, since people often don't expect the group leader to join in.
If you have the luxury of a large open area you can also allow runners the option of surging in any direction they wish. This addition is perfect for groups with a wide ability range since it makes the speed and acceleration of the surger less important and the element of surprise all that more important.
With fewer than five runners the secrecy element suffers since it becomes easier to remember who has already surged and therefore who is left. A full set of surges is also over quickly and there will be less variation. A couple of suggestions for small groups are:
- Rotate: Don't worry about assigning numbers to group members. Each runner simply takes a turn to surge. A surprise element can be retained by letting each runner decide exactly when they surge.
- Multiple Numbers: Each runner is given multiple numbers. This means it's much more difficult to work out who is due to surge next. A person could even even end up having two or more turns in succession.
This works really well on a running track, but any measured loop will do the job. The group performs several reps of the loop and with each rep a new surger is chosen. The surger chooses a section of the loop (e.g. a 50m length of track) during which to surge. This is excellent for simulating race situations where such tactics often come into play and runners must get used to responding to frequent changes of pace and staying in touch with the pack.
Real World Example
There is a group of nine adult athletes of mixed abilities and the session is taking place on public roads.
The run leader assigns each team member a number at random from one to nine. This number is given in secret by calling over one person at a time and whispering it to them. The run leader is careful to give out the numbers non-consecutively so that nobody can track who has which number.
The rules of the game are explained and athletes begin jogging as a group at a nice relaxed pace. The number six is called and after five seconds the athlete who was given that number surges away from the group.
The rest of the group respond and give chase and after a few seconds the run leader instructs the group to relax, regroup and start jogging again. Numbers eight, three and two are called in turn with surges and regrouping between each.
The run route then takes the group on to a busy street and the session is postponed temporarily until quieter, more suitable roads are reached.
Following another couple of surges it becomes clear that some of the less-able runners are getting tired, so the run leader has the group walk for thirty seconds before continuing.
Once the group has started jogging again, the run leader calls out number ten, which was not assigned to anybody. As time passes the group start looking round expectantly and getting more and more tense until the run leader reveals their trickery.
While the team are laughing and off guard, the run leader calls out eleven - the number they have assigned to themself - and surges away immediately.
The team are encouraged to be as surprising as possible with the final few surges, and one participant even has the wonderfully devious idea of surging away in the opposite direction.
Continually remind runners to slow down after each surge - and occasionally walk - so that nobody is struggling to keep up with the base pace.
Beware of busy areas and roads. It's easy for runners to become less aware of their surroundings when focussing on running fast, having fun and in a competitive situation.