The 800 meter run is considered the shortest of the distance races in track and field. While it is half the length of the 1600 meter run, it retains some of the physiological and psychological characteristics of that event along with some properties of the 400 meter dash which is half as far.
In profiling the 800 meter event, the importance of speed, speed endurance, strength, and stamina cannot be understated. Distance runners may find the 800 meters to be a challenging and exciting event, but usually lack enough speed and speed endurance necessary for success. Sometimes fledgling 400 meter runners can be persuaded to try the 800 meters as they may already posses the maximum speed and speed endurance necessary for a good base in getting an advanced start in the event.
On most high school teams the 800 meter runners are usually distance runners that have also competed in cross country and need a boost in their anaerobic energy system development to compete effectively.
High school coaches need to be skilled at developing both Type 1 and Type 2 800 meter runners to make a complete distance crew. The Type 1 runner, (see my previous article: The 800 Meter Runner: Speed [Type 1]), is the 400 meter runner moving up to the 800 meters, while the Type 2 800 meter runner is a miler, two-miler, or cross country runner moving down into the event.
The two physiological types are trained much differently because they have different athletic profiles and their daily sessions on the track should reflect that. The Type 2 800 meter runner probably already possess a well developed VO2 max infrastructure which is indicative of a powerful aerobic energy system. Their problem is, they usually lack max speed, which along with speed endurance must be a major focus of their 800 meter training.
* Coaching Resource: 800M: Successful Coaching Strategies
In training Type 2 800 meter runners one of the first metrics to examine is their weekly mileage. While this paints a small picture of their training it is easily measured. Most Type 2 800 meter runners should be in the 38-40 mile a week range which is roughly 20% higher then the level the Type 1 800 meter runner will train at.
Since the Type 2 800 meter runner will aim for a pair of equal timed 400 meter segments in a race, the aerobic component plays a bigger part than the Type 1 800 meter runner who will shoot for a faster first 400 segment while racing.
With mileage at about 40 miles per week the aerobic training components of a Type 2 are pretty consistent with distance training theory. That is: a continuous long run of 8 miles once per week (or 9 day microcycle), recovery/base runs of 4-6 miles, continuous LT threshold runs of 25 minutes, and standard vVO2 max workouts of 1600 meter repeats at date pace with a work to rest ratio of 1:1. These workouts will continue to develop their already pretty good aerobic energy system.
The real work for a Type 2 is work done at or faster than 800 meter race pace, which is something these types of runners are not good at. The list of training units to do in a microcycle stretch from 30 meter fly repeats at maximum velocity, to 600 meter repeats at 92% of maximum velocity. The question is how many of each, and more importantly how much rest recovery between each bout of work?
The answers to both questions, with the exception of max speed fly work, is that it depends on where these athletes are in their training macrocycle. Anaerobic work done in the specific prep period is much different then that done in the competition period, yet the work distance is the same length. The difference lies in the intensity of the work, and that is controlled by the number of repeats and the rest recovery between.
Table 1 below displays various anaerobic work sessions for a Type 2 800 meter runner done at various training periods within a macrocycle. Note the rest recovery especially between the training units.
Anaerobic work can be done right from the start of the season with a Type 2 800 meter runner prospect. Keep the rest recovery short early in the season, which is not intuitive. Extend the rest recovery late in the macrocycle to get the highest possible intensity.
* Additional Teaching Resource: Every 800m – 1600m Workout For The Entire High School Season
This is how distance athletes get faster. Do all of this while continuing to slowly improve the aerobic energy system through mostly continuous runs of varying lengths and intensity.