Training for the 800m
When I trained for the 800m many years ago, I still found it difficult to run very well over 400m or 1500m despite a high level of 800m fitness. One of the reasons for this is the unique nature of the 800m. A 400m is essentially an extended sprint event, where runners can excel on training which rarely, if ever, exceeds 400m in length, and which focuses on speed and strength. A 1500m race is getting well into the arena of distance running, where runners can still excel even if their training is mostly long slow distance. But 800m runners who only train with the sprinters, or who conversely only train with the distance runners, will find their times dropping away in the 800m.
800m specialists need to find a balance, and need to train in such a way as to develop both their anaerobic energy systems and their aerobic energy systems. They need not only to think like a sprinter and try to develop sprinting speed and power, but also they need to endure the torture of longer running.
This table illustrates how the two energy systems have been shown to contribute to racing performances:
Proportion of Aerobic / Anaerobic Production of Energy (ATP)
|Duration of Maximal Exercise ||% Anaerobic ||% Aerobic |
|1-3 sec ||100||0|
|10 sec ||90||10|
|30 sec ||80||20|
|1 min ||70||30|
|2 min ||60||40|
|4 min ||35||65|
|10 min ||15||85|
|30 min ||5||95|
|1 hour ||2||98|
|2 hour ||1||99|
Mole P, (1983). Exercise metabolism. In Exercise Medicine: Physiological Principles and Clinical Application. New York: Academic Press.
The aerobic/ anaerobic mix in training during the week should be roughly in proportion to the energy used in a race. For example if you are a marathoner, most of your training is aerobic since you use only about 1% anaerobic in a race. Whereas an 800m runner uses about 50% aerobic and 50% anaerobic in a race.
So then, if you want to focus on the 800m this track season, how should you train to develop both these systems?
A particular training session should have as its focus just one or the other of these energy systems, not both. Don’t normally mix aerobic training and anaerobic training in the same workout. When designing your week’s training pattern, half the sessions should focus on developing anaerobically, and half the sessions aimed at developing aerobically.
One anaerobic session I like to conduct, as the season’s important 800m races draw near, is 4 x 200m at race pace with a very short break in between. Another shown me by Glenn Coward is the “zipzap”, a few laps of 100m sprint, 50m float. For the 800m runner, anaerobic sessions just need a little warm-up and stretch, some stride-outs or run-throughs as if racing, and then into it.
Aerobic sessions should be at a reasonable pace and not too far. Genuine tempo runs make for good aerobic sessions for an 800m runner. As do traditional middle distance intervals.
During the track season, frequent 800m races are recommended. Good 800m runners will keep improving as a track season progresses by running as many 800m races as they can, for experience and for rapid conditioning.
I love the 800m because it is such a tricky combination of strategy, psychology, skill, strength, speed, endurance. It is the shortest track event which doesn’t use lanes, which makes it very exciting to watch and to compete in. It pits the sprinter-type against the distance-type. It cannot be run flat out, there must be something in reserve; but it cannot be run easily, runners must be alert to others surging and be ready to sprint to cover any move. It takes a special kind of athlete to specialise in the 800m.
800m time predictors can be found at