Understanding the Competition Period in Middle Distance Training

Posted by Scott Christensen

In considering the unique construction of a middle distance training macrocyle, the first point should be the length of time available.  Ideally, it should be set up to be between fifteen and twenty weeks in duration.  Secondly, the macrocycle should be divided into two phases which are called preparation and competitive.  In essence, the first half of the macrocycle focuses on general to specific preparation, while the second half focuses on the spectrum of less important to more important competitions.  Thirdly, the two phases should be sub-divided into four training periods (two periods in each phase) which are used to plan and implement different types of aerobic and anaerobic training sessions depending on the time of the season.  Today the focus is the competition period of middle distance training.

The competition period, or comp for short, is the last portion of the competitive phase and is characterized by two important principles: 1). meets consist of competitive championship meets, and 2). maintenance of fitness, with much of the training stimuli coming from the races themselves. 

During this time of the season the racing is the most taxing and difficult of the macrocycle.  Psychologically, the athletes are highly stressed because of the trepidation and uncertainty of the big races, but this should be balanced by the cut in training volume which will cause them to feel stronger and elevate their confidence.

The two competition period twelve day microcycles should contain the most thoughtfully sequenced workouts of any of the training cycles found during the entire macrocycle.  Special endurance 1, special endurance 2, and speed endurance are all vital training units for a successful middle distance runner, and they are all continued at this time. 

Comp training sessions in these areas are characterized by low total volume, and high recovery periods between work bouts within the session.  By keeping the recovery long, usually 8-12 minutes, high intensity is maintained due to near-complete metabolic and neuro-muscular recovery.  In other words, the runner is pushing very high heart rates, and is very high on speed and lactate factors, but is given enough time to recover between bouts of work within the session.   


* Coaching Resource: 800M: Successful Coaching Strategies


On the aerobic side of energy production during comp, total daily running volume reaches a level that is only between 50% -70% of what it was during pre-comp.  Aerobic power workouts are less important at this time (races are the stimulus for VO2 max maintenance) and aerobic capacity workouts are done only as maintenance about every 4-5 days.  In general, the aerobic energy system is focused on maintaining fitness rather than further development during comp and this allows for the drop in training mileage.

As in all areas of distance and middle distance running, it is important that the athlete does not over-race during comp.  Quality and not quantity competition is the emphasis during comp.  A race or two over each twelve day microcycle for a total of 3-4 races during comp is more than enough. 

The more elite or experienced the runner, then the fewer big races that need be emphasized.  It is best to schedule races that fit most closely the athletes skill set and not just run for team points.    

The training sessions common to each comp microcycle (with session examples) should contain:

— a long run (12% of the twelve-day microcyle mileage; however, because the comp microcycles have less overall mileage the long runs will not be all that long), three recovery runs (4-7% of microcycle mileage),

— one to two days off of running entirely, one max speed session (repeat flying 30 meters/3 min rest between, and with appropriate warm-up and an extended two to three mile run after),

— one speed endurance session (3 x 150 meters with plenty of rest as these need to be very fast),

— one special endurance 1 session (5 x 200 meters),

— and one special endurance 2 session (2 x 600 meters with 12 minutes rest between, or 5 x 400 meters with each 400 done seven seconds faster than present one mile race pace with seven minutes rest between bouts of work).

Doing repetition running over interval training is the focus for the middle distance runner during comp, which emphasizes capacity over efficiency.  This is the major goal of the comp period. That also leaves prime room for a race or two. 

The competition period is a time of highly intensive, but volume tapering, aerobic and anaerobic energy system work done sequentially so that over-extending injuries are kept to a minimum and strength is maximized.  Understanding individual rest and recovery patterns are crucial.  The exact amount of mileage tapering for each middle distance runner varies and can only be established with a historical record of championship meet achievement. 


* Additional Teaching Resource:  The Training Model for High School Middle Distance


The comp training model that is implemented should portray a varied array of complimentary training sessions which adhere strongly to the individual skills of each runner.  The coach should continually emphasize rest and recovery over the work that is being done.  The “rest now” message should also extent to activities beyond track practice as well. 




Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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