An Endurance Training Session for Middle Distance Athletes

Posted by Scott Christensen

A training session is a block of dedicated time containing various units of work that pertain to the specific demands of the track and field event that the athlete participates in.  For a middle distance runner, a session more often than not contains a high degree of endurance work.  Thus today we will discuss an endurance training session.

Of the five primary physical components that define athleticism—strength, speed, flexibility, endurance, and coordination; endurance is the primary target of improvement for distance and middle distance runners.  However, the other four components must improve as well to improve racing performance and training durability.  Most middle distance coaches feel comfortable with the endurance units that they prescribe for the daily sessions.  It is the implementation of work units that target improvement in the other four areas that coaches most struggle with.

Knowing where to place the units within a session to target improvement in the five primary physical components is a coaching concern, along with the strength of the training stimuli for each.  One overlooked concern is the proper sequence of training units within the session.  A coach may feel a certain stimulus should do this, but if put in the wrong spot for the day it will actually do that.  Having middle distance runners doing “strides” is a perfect example of this confusion.

Many coaches feel doing strides (70-80 meters fast on the track or football field repeatedly) at the end of a workout is a stimulus for overall speed improvement in runners.  Think about this, it is at the end of the session, so the athletes are tired and incapable of anything approaching their maximum velocity so no real new muscle fibers are being recruited.  They are getting more tired doing strides, but are not promoting getting faster.  Strides are not a bad thing, they do stimulate speed endurance when tired, but they do not stimulate getting “faster”.


* Coaching Resource: The Mile: Successful Coaching Strategies


Pairing the slow grinding day of a long run with strides at the end of the session to “wakeup” the nervous system is a really good stimulus.  Now tack on a grinding body core unit that works the stabilizers of the trunk and pelvis when tired is a perfect complemental training day.  The next day, a middle distance runner could do a speed endurance session of 6 x 150 meters very fast with 8 minutes recovery interval.  After this unit, the nervous system is very activated.  Doing strides at this point is worthless, as would be grinding core work.  Now is the time to prescribe a unit of artificial loading in the weight room, such as doing a set of 6 repeats at 90% of their max with the exercises of a hang clean, hex bar deadlift, or a squat routine.  Lots of top-end neuro-muscular work all session long.

It has been shown in repeated studies that middle distance runners benefit greatly by improving their maximum velocity.  As their maximum velocity over a short distance (40-50 meters) improves, then their sub-maximum velocity over longer distances improves right along with it.

Running at maximum velocity is a highly technical skill.  Muscle fibers in great numbers are firing and contracting as quickly as possible in the prime movers.  Effectively recruiting muscle fibers and synchronizing their contractions in a coordinated manner is a learned skill.  A warm, but fresh muscle is needed to improve this skill.  This is why all technical (fast and/or coordinated) skill development must be found in a unit early in the training session.  These activities must be done before fatigue begins to build.

The opposite of early is late.  So, while there are activities that are best done in units early in a training session, there are other units that benefit the middle distance runner greatly if done late in a session.  Anything that is endurance or strength related comes to mind.  Towards the end of a session, there is mounting fatigue, and the runner is struggling while holding on to proper body posture and economical running efficiency.  Acidosis, central nervous system fatigue, and fuel issues are beginning to degrade performance.

The successful runner will be the one that can maintain velocity despite these unpleasantries.  That will require strength and a developed aerobic system.  On most days, runners struggle to finish endurance work and that is the proper stimulus.  The job of a coach is to make runners uncomfortable.  Endurance and strength gains are most effective if done at the end while tired.

Setting up the daily training session for a middle distance runner is a 10 step process used in sequencing the units.  The units must be completed in exact order, but many days, not all the units will be done.  However whatever is done, must follow the proper sequence to get the most out of each unit’s stimulus.


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


Always keep in mind that certain work must be done early in the session while other work is best found late in the session.  The goal of a middle distance coach is to get athletes faster and keep them healthy.  This is the essence of training.

Shown is the proper unit sequence of a middle distance training session.  Coaches and athletes should seldom stray from this order if they want to fully develop the five primary physical components, get faster, and stay healthy.

  1. Announcements and workout emphasis
  2. Warm-up, mostly dynamic
  3. Technical or Max Speed
  4. Speed Endurance
  5. Endurance
  6. Strength
  7. Coordination
  8. Flexibility
  9. Cool-Down
  10. Debrief




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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