Training the Middle Distance Runner
By Jack Ransone, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Human Performance, Oklahoma State University
USATF Coaching Education Level II and Level III Instructor
While performance continued to improve for United States Olympic athletes
through the 1980's and the early 1990's, the recent world competitions has shown that this
improvement has stalled. Previous improvements were, in part, the result of continued
development of training methods and coaching education through increased influence of
science. This particularly applies to sports medicine, sports physiology and sports
psychology, as well as biomechanics. All areas of science contributed to the improved
performance parameters in middle distance runing.
The factors that decide the performance in middle distance running are
anaerobic endurance and aerobic power.
Anaerobic endurance primarily determines how long an athlete can
sustain maximum power output with a minimum drop in speed. Its greatest effect is noticed
on distances which require performance times of two to five minutes, ie. 800 to 1500 meter
events. Anaerobic endurance is determined by: 1) productive power of these energetic
pathways which are concerned with anaerobic glycolysis and, 2) subjective tolerance to
lactic acid accumulation. Anaerobic breakdown of carbohydrates occurs in the cell and the
required enzymes are dominant in fast-twitch muscle fibers. Lactate tolerance is related
to pain threshold and motivational level, as well as lactate removal rate from the muscle
To tie together this enormous lactate puzzle requires an understanding
of 3 different working units within this energy system. The first working unit is termed
Speed Endurance. To challenge this system, runs are done at maximum or sub-maximum speed
(90-100%) for approximately 7 to 20 seconds (60-150 meters), like speed, this involves a
motor educational process to implant the correct patterns, not the actual energy source.
Speed endurance runs can be done without the penalizing disadvantage of heavy lactate
accumulation. No more than 2 to 3 sets or 300-1200 meters in total distance should be run.
Sets of 2 to 5 reps with 2 to 5 minutes recovery between sets, and 8 to 10 minutes between
reps is recommended.
Special Endurance I refers to the technical demand and/or the energy
system demands. Runs are done at 90 to 100% for approximately 20 to 40 seconds (150-300
meters) with complete or near complete recovery (10-20 minutes) between reps. 1 to 5 reps
are done for this competition specific type endurance for 300 to 1200 meters in total
distance. Special Endurance II involves 1 to 3 runs, done at 90 to 100% intensity for
approximately 40 seconds to 2 minutes, 300-600 meters, with complete or near complete
recovery (20-30 minutes). Low intensity jogging or tempo runs (40-50% intensity) will help
recovery and removal of lactates in 20 to 30 minutes. If just walking or sitting recovery
is done, it will take 1-2 hours to remove lactate accumulation.
Anaerobic power is associated with the biochemical ability to produce
the greatest amount of aerobic energy (ATP through oxidative phosphorylation) per time
unit. This is one limiting factor in events which demand peak energy output and energy
production during a period of four to twelve minutes, 1500 to 3000 meter events. Aerobic
power is largely limited by transport, rather than utilization, of oxygen. Factors of the
greatest influence here are lung diffusion, hemoglobin, pumping ability of the heart and
capillarization of specific muscles.
Training for anaerobic endurance entails what is often called
"lactate training". Training results are rapid but of brief duration. In
addition, this type of training is very strenuous and taxing on the athlete, so its use
should be restricted to certain intense periods just prior to peaking for competition.
Lactate training should be conducted as interval training with incomplete recovery between
highly intensive work periods.
Aerobic power is improved by intensive bouts of exercise lasting four
to eight minutes. Heart rate should exceed 180 beats per minute and jogging during
"rest" should never be so slow as to allow heart rate to drop below 120 beats
per minute. Rest intervals could be about equal in length to the work periods. It is
essential to note that no athlete should be subjected to highly-intensive bouts of
exercise without completing overdistance training. This is especially critical in young
athletes; it takes years of diligent endurance training and tempo intervals with allowance
for good lactate removal from the muscles to tolerate highly-intensive exercises.
Extensive Tempo training involves running at 60-80% (HR 120-160)
intensity, the trained athlete will experience lactate formation but only a fraction of
those levels reached while running at 90-100% intensity. Continuous running at extensive
tempo levels assists the removal of lactate and the body's ability to tolerate greater
levels of lactate. At submaximal work levels of 60-80%, lactate forms in larger amounts
when the oxidative system is insufficient to meet the demands of the muscle, creating a
state of oxygen shortage or oxygen debt accelerating the demand for anaerobic metabolism.
This level may not occur until well into the workout or during intensive tempo work. This
method involves relaxed and smooth running at 60-80% intensity, to assist recovery and
enhance the oxidative mechanisms.
Intensive Tempo training refers to exercise at 80-90% (HR 160-180)
intensity, a relaxed, smooth and controlled tempo will allow an athlete to run without
undue stress. Stress develops from running tight with poor mechanics bringing about a type
of emotional and mental fatigue often associated with stress. An athlete may not
necessarily get tired from running fast, but from working harder. Insufficient oxygen and
the build-up of lactate will bring muscle activity to a stop, owing to a build-up of waste
products causing fatigue. The onset of this condition is determined to a large extent by
the efficiency of circulation developed with extensive tempo preparation. Tempo work of
all three levels is used by progressively increasing its intensity and gradually work into
special and speed endurance sessions. It is intensive tempo that lays the base for
anaerobic energy systems which follow.
International Copyright © of CoachesEducation.com. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without
express written permission
of CoachesEducation.com is strictly prohibited.