Speed Endurance Work for the Middle Distance Athlete

Posted by Scott Christensen

Speed endurance work is often overlooked by middle distance coaches.  The theoretical concept isn’t, but the workouts done to directly address it, is.  Speed endurance is understood to be the ability to maintain a very high percentage of maximum velocity over the greatest distance possible. 

Many different workouts touch on the concept, with repeat 500-600 meter efforts coming to mind.  Of course, sessions such as these will somewhat help with addressing speed endurance, but while the velocity is fast, it is not fast enough to put a high stimulus on developing speed endurance.  Shorter and faster repetitive work needs to be the true speed endurance stimulus for a middle distance runner. 

Speed endurance training sessions consist of repetitive work from 60 meters to about 200 meters for a middle distance runner (60-150 meters for a sprinter).  The repeats are very fast, so the session will contain lengthy recovery between each bout of work.  The athlete needs to be neuro-muscular fresh when doing the work, so the speed endurance training unit is found immediately after the dynamic warm-up unit in a session.

Many distance coaches under-emphasize very fast training sessions because they feel the injury factor is too high.  It is high if goal pace is used for workout target times, but if date pace is used, the injury factor is not high at all.  These should not be all-out, sprint your guts out, training sessions. 

Speed endurance training units should be found in every microcycle during the macrocycle periods of specific preparation, pre-competitive and competitive.  Or in other words, the last ten weeks of the season.  These workouts require about a 48 hour recovery, so the day after should be something dissimilar and could be a long run, tempo run, recovery run, or even a vVO2 max day in a time pinch.


* Coaching Resource: The Mile: Successful Coaching Strategies


Some coaches simply do 5 x 100 meters using a starting gun, accurate stopwatch, and 4-6 minutes of recovery for a speed endurance session.  Other coaches have markings on their track for unusual distances like 120 meters, 140 meters or 160 meters and set those distances up for repetitive work with again 4-6 minutes of recovery between bouts of work.  These distances can be set up all the same or as a type of workout ladder.  Many coaches love workout ladders because it adds variety to workouts and that is important.  Almost all ladders are based on variable (increasing then decreasing, i.e. climbing up and then down a step ladder) distances which dictate the pace of each effort and thus controls the intensity.  Sometimes the ladders only go up, and sometimes they only go down in distance.

Here is an example of ladder-type speed endurance session to be done during the early part of the pre-competitive period (eight weeks from the championship meet).


It will be eleven repeats of work starting at 100 meters, and increasing by 10 meters each repeat, to finish at 200 meters.  Two date pace marks for each athlete will be needed: the runner’s present day 1600 meter time and their present day 400 meter time.  For an example, the marks of 4:30/1600 meters and 54/400 meters will be used here.  In addition, eleven small cones need to be set up on the track for each of eleven “finish lines”.  The first small cone should be placed 100 meters from the starting line, the second small cone 110 meters from the starting line, the third small cone 120 meters from the starting line, and so on.  The eleventh cone should be 200 meters from the starting line.    

The recovery interval between each bout of work should be four minutes and should consist of the time needed to walk/jog back to the starting line each time.  Always remember when doing fast work: sprinters are never in a hurry during their recovery periods and neither should middle distance runners in a workout such as this.  If more recovery time is needed for environmental, psychological or physiological reasons then increase it.


* Additional Teaching Resource: Training Model for the High School Middle Distance (800-1600)


The first repeat is to run 100 meters at their present day 1600 meter pace, and their eleventh repeat is to run 200 meters at their present day 400 meter pace.  In this example, 4:30 pace is 16.8 seconds for 100 meters, and 54.0 pace is 27.0 seconds for 200 meters.  That will be the first and last effort, but what about the middle nine work bouts that increase by ten meters on each repeat? 

This becomes a math problem.  In this case: 27.0 – 16.8 = 10.2 seconds.  Take 10.2 and divide by 10 and the acceleration factor is about 1.0 second between each effort.  Table 1 illustrates the workout target paces for all eleven repeats of work in this example.


To be fast you have to train fast.  The critical zone in a middle distance race requires speed, speed endurance and lactate tolerance to be successful.  This workout will deliver big-time on the aspect of speed endurance development.






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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