Developing High School 800/1600 Meter
by Skip Stolley
AAF/CIF Coaching Programs
The following is a capsule of my philosophy for
coaching distance runners:
- There is no MAGIC MILEAGE FIGURES that will guarantee success in
- We need to train our runners for RACING, not for mileage or speed.
- In distance running, there is an enormous difference between running
fast in TRAINING, and running fast in a RACE.
- REST and RECOVERY are critical aspects of training for the distance
- Distance running is a MOVEMENT SKILL, not just aerobic exercise.
- Distance runners do not PEAK with speed work.
- Distance runners need to be able to run fast -- like DISTANCE RUNNERS --
not like sprinters.
- Every race is a TEST OF COURAGE. For runners to achieve their goals and
realize their full potential, we must encourage them to take that test.
- The most important time we spend as coaches is NOT the time we spend
with our athletes on the track, but the time we spend PLANNING WHAT TO DO with our
athletes on the track.
10 QUESTIONS FOR US TO CONSIDER
1) The 800 and 1600m races are speed/endurance events. Do we give our
athletes WITH SPEED a chance to run these races.?
2) What does the 800-METER RACE demand you be able to do to be
- You have to bring good basic speed (if not sprint speed) to the event.
- You have to be able to run the last 45-50% (350-400 meters) of the race
- You have to be able to race and maneuver in traffic.
3) What does the 1600-METER RACE demand you be able to do to be
- You have to bring good basic speed to this event.
- You have to be able to run the last 35-40% (550-650 meters) of the race
- You have to be able to execute and respond to tactics.
4) What does that tell us about how 800-meter and 1600-meter runners
- Both 800 and 1600-meter runners need to train to develop good speed.
- Both 800 and 1600-meter runners need to do a good deal of anaerobic
training to develop a high-lactate tolerance.
- Both 800 and 1600-meter runners need to train to execute and respond to
tactics in their races.
5) How do SPRINT MECHANICS apply to running the middle distance races?
THEY DON'T! There is no place in an 800 or 1600-meter race where you
can run like a sprinter, high on the balls of the feet with exaggerated arm-action.
800/1600-meter runners have to be able to run fast using middle distance running
6) Do we prepare our athletes to go into their races WITH A PLAN for
racing their opponents, or do they usually just run to hit splits?
7) Is a PACE PLAN a race plan?
NO! Athletes have little or no control over the pace of their races
unless they can front-run start to finish. Our athletes need to be prepared to compete
well in races of all descriptions: fast-paced at the start, then slow-paced in the middle
. . . slow-paced at the start, progressively faster thereafter . . . and fast-paced
8) What kinds of RACING WEAPONS can we train our athletes to take with
them to the starting line?
- The ability to run fast from the start of the race.
- The ability to initiate or respond to changes in pace in the middle of
- The ability to run fast at the end of the race.
9) In an 800-meter race, do TACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS differ for 400/800
and 800/1600 type runners?
YES! 800/1600 runners have to develop exceptional speed-stamina to
sustain the basic speed they have over 800-meters.
400/800 runners have to have the endurance to use their speed over the
last 200/300 meters of the race.
10) In a 1600-meter race, do TACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS differ for
800/1600 and 1600/3200 type runners?
YES! 1600/3200 runners have to force the pace in the middle stages of
the race to strip the 800/1600 types of their superior speed at the end of the race.
-800/1600 runners have to be able to maintain contact with the
front-runners in the middle of the race so they can utilize their speed to catch and
overtake them at the end.
APPLYING STRATEGY TO THE 800-METERS
In a race proceeding at 6-7 meters per second, tactical errors can be
irreversible. 800-meter runners have to make decisions and respond to events in their race
in a split second. A moment's hesitation can be the difference between winning and losing
in a race that lasts about two minutes.
- Running in lanes or alleys around the first curve
Runners behind at the break-line are at a disadvantage because they
will have to run wide for much of the remainder of the race in order to move up and gain
position on the leaders. They should make the most of the situation by not breaking for
lane 1 or 2 immediately from the outside lanes, and run a diagonal straight line to the
next curve to minimize the extra distance they have to run and avoid the congestion in the
- A fast, early pace
Tactically, a fast first 400-meters punishes an 800/1600-type runner
more than a 400/800-type runner because it is closer to their maximum 400-meter speed.
Remember that half of this race is run on the curve! (More than half on
wide-radius tracks.) When passing, position on the outside shoulder of the runner ahead
must be gained on the curve in order to move past on the straight and into the inside lane
before the curve.
- Staying out of boxes
The 800 is almost always a tightly-bunched race, so 800-meter runners
have to be able to run in traffic. When positioned in lane 1 behind the leaders, runners
have to be wary of others coming up from behind on their outside shoulder and becoming
"boxed-in". In most cases, they are far better off running a few extra meters in
lane 2 or 3 through the first 300-400 meters until the field strings-out to avoid all the
contact and boxing-in that tends to occur in the inside lanes.
- Interruptions in pace
The biggest challenge facing an 800-meter runner is avoiding
interruptions in pace. A basic rule in the middle distance races (800 and 1600-meters) is
that a runner can only make TWO aggressive accelerations in a fast-paced race. Runners who
have to spend those two accelerations to recover from being tripped, pushed, cut-off or
getting out of a box will find themselves stripped of the ability to accelerate once more
at the end of the race.
APPLYING STRATEGY TO THE 1600-METERS
Since the 1930's when the world record stood at 4:06, the "Magic
of the Mile" lies in the opportunity it gives a front-runner to break away from the
field. But since the middle stage of the race is relatively short, position runners who
stay relatively close to the leaders can use superior speed to overtake them at the end.
- Front runners win by breaking away
The leaders of the race usually assume front-running positions and
force the pace because they believe they are vulnerable to being beaten by faster
finishers in a slow-paced race. They want a fast-pace from the start so their opponents
will fall behind or tire to the point of being unable to increase the pace at the end of
the race. If they have not been successful in gapping the field after 800-meters, they can
employ some short bursts of faster running to initiate a break. This tactic is called
- Position runners win by maintaining contact with
The first rule of position-running is, "Never lose contact with
the leaders!" If successful, they can often use superior speed to overtake them at
the finish. This simple strategy is often complicated, however, by the fact that there are
other runners in the race with the same plan. In this case, another position-running
strategy called a long finish can be effective. The object of this tactic is to surprise
the field by dramatically increasing the pace well before the finish . . . usually after
about 1000 meters . . . and is based on the premise that the front-runners will be
demoralized by losing the lead, and that other position runners will lack the confidence
(or toughness) to respond with so much distance remaining to the finish.
- Final Thoughts
Some athletes are natural front-runners. Over the course of their
entire careers, most coaches are fortunate to find 5 or 6 such runners who can dictate the
pace of their races. Despite the advantages we may attach to position-running tactics, we
should not make the mistake of discouraging our runners from taking the lead and forcing
the pace if that is where they feel most comfortable and in control in a race.
ANAEROBIC TRAINING FOR MIDDLE DISTANCE RUNNERS
Emphasis is on creating a high-lactate state with repeated bouts of
fast running . . . separated with an incomplete recovery period.
A) INTERVAL TRAINING
6 Examples of Interval Workouts (For a 2:00 HS 800m runner)
1) Increasing speed/decreasing recovery reps
5x (4x200m) @ 33-32-31-30-29 w/50-45-40-35-30 sec interval by set (no
additional recovery between sets!!)
2) Russian intervals
5x (3x300m @ 48 w/jog 100m at 30-sec) Jog 800m between sets
3) Tempo intervals
2x 1000m @ 2:55 (70-pace) w/60-sec Int --4:00-- 4x500m @ 1:21+
(65-pace) w/60-sec Int -- 4:00-- 2x 1000m @ 2:55 w/60-sec Int
4) Pick-up reps
8x 400m @ 70 w/90-sec Int and #s 2,5,8 @ 63
5) Neg-split reps
2x (300m-500-400 w/neg-split last 100m)
@ :32+14 (=:46 300m) . . . 66+14 (=1:20 500m) . . . 48+14 (=62 400m)
2-min btw reps/jog 1200 btw sets
6) Sit 'n Kick Reps
5x (400m @ 64 . . . rest 30-sec . . . 200m @ 28) jog 1200m btw sets
B) SURGING TRAINING
2 Examples of surging workouts (For a 2:20 HS 800m runner)
1) Oregon surges
2x (600-1000-600) surging 200s @ 37-47-37-etc. Jog 600m between sets.
2) Cone surges (place cones at 133m intervals around the track)
5-4-3 laps striding to one cone and surging to the next. Jog 800 btw
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