Speed Endurance (Middle Distance Training)

Posted by Scott Christensen

The middle distance events in track and field have a sizeable anaerobic energy system contribution when the distance is done to exhaustion. The percentage of anaerobic contribution varies from 50% in the 800 meters to 80% in the 1600 meters. Because the energy contribution is so extensive, many training sessions need to be implemented during the track and field macrocycle to properly train and develop the mechanics and pathways of the system.

In sprinting terminology, maximum effort is tied to maximum speed. Many studies have shown that maximum speed in an athlete can only be maintained for 60-80 meters before fatigue deteriorates performance. There is considerable benefit in year-round, balanced, multi-lateral training where all runners, including middle-distance athletes, never get far from continued development of the primary training component of maximum speed. As maximum speed gets faster in an athlete, so do the anaerobic components which facilitate that energy delivery process.

Coaching Resource: Speed Development for Distance Runners

Since maximum speed can only be maintained for 60-80 meters, it is realistic to conclude that all standard track races, including middle distance races, are run at sub-maximum speed if done to exhaustion. While it has been shown that frequent training stimuli of maximum speed work makes all runners “faster”, it has also been shown that frequent training at a fractionalization of maximum speed values improves sub-maximum performance. Training theory states that he faster the race, the greater the need for sub-maximum training stimuli closer to the maximum speed ability of the runner.



Middle distance racing is done at a sub-maximum speed. Logically, middle distance racing pace is just a bit slower then the pace sprinters use to complete a 400 meter effort. Because of the pace demands of a middle distance race, training theory calls for frequent work sessions that are at a high fractionalization of maximum speed (Table 1). Work done at the listed efforts provides the stimulus for development of the metabolic and muscular pathways needed to maintain a fast middle distance race pace. It is suggested that each of the three fractionalized modalities be part of a twelve day training microcyle during the specific preparation and pre-competition periods of the track macrocycle.

Related Article: Do Not Neglect Speed and Speed Endurance Workouts 

Special Endurance 1 and Special Endurance 2 training sessions are commonly done by middle distance runners during the track microcycle. The most often done work being interval-style repeats of 200 meters and 400 meters. Frequently, coaches wait too long to implement them into the training scheme. The time-frame for complete development of the anaerobic energy system is 10-12 weeks, so a coach cannot wait too long to bring this type of work to the runners.

The anaerobic training modality not often seen in middle distance training programs is called Speed Endurance. These are training sessions that are just a bit slower than maximum speed efforts. Training sessions that target Speed Endurance stimulate the body’s energy and muscular systems to carry a very fast velocity to near exhaustion. This type of work is among the most technical efforts that a middle distance runner can do, so it is the role of the coach to mark the track (or grass course) so that elapsed time can be aligned with the exact distance in setting up and evaluating the work. As in all anaerobic work, the coach plays the key role of regulating intensity of effort. This is done by regulating the level of recovery between bouts of work. Speed Endurance work requires relatively long recovery intervals.

Training Modality                Extent/Intensity           Volume/Rest

Speed Endurance

60 meters to 150 meters @ 97% max effort

[Example] 2 sets of 4 reps of 120 meters. 6 minutes rest between.

Special Endurance 1

150 meters to 300 meters @ 95% max effort

[Example] 2 sets of 3 reps of 200 meters. 4 minutes rest between.

Special Endurance 2

300 meters to 600 meters @ 92% max effort

[Example] 1 set of 4 reps of 500 meters. 3 ½ minutes rest between.

Table 1. Work sessions that target the anaerobic energy system.

The correct implementation of a Speed Endurance training session is as follows.

  • Target: Anaerobic Capacity
  • Intensity: 97% of max speed m/s value or about 103% of 400 pace
  • Total Session Volume: 300-1000 meters
  • Rest: 6 minutes between each rep
  • Work Duration: 60-150 meters

A Speed Endurance workout session is as follows:

With a measuring wheel and can of spray paint, mark a dot on the track exactly 150 meters from the finish line.

  • 2 mile very active warm-up. Strides. Basically, race day preparation.
  • Extent of work is 4 * 150 meters on the track at max effort. Use a starting device.
  • Rest is 6 minutes between.
  • Time goal is their date pace 400 meter time multiplied by .35.
  • 3 mile easy run @AT.

Another example of a Speed Endurance session:

Be very careful with this workout. It is more than just strides because it is done as the first unit in the session.

  • Very light static stretch followed by 2 mile active warm-up. Then 1 mile of additional mixed intensive striding and jogging.
  • 7 x 140 meters fast on grass. Use a starting device for an exact start and good acceleration from a crouch. 6 min rest between.
  • 2 mile gentle cool down


Related Article: The Twelve Day Training Microcyle 


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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