800m vs. 1,600m vs. 3,200m

Quick question for high school coaches: How would you want to see the athletes you work with run the 800m, the 1,600m and the 3,200m? Positive splits? Negative splits? Even splits?

It’s an important question this time of year because the work you do in the next four to six weeks will determine “the tools” that the athletes has on their toolbelt come race time (i.e. you can’t expect a miler of average ability to be able to shift gears at 300m to go and again at 100m to go if you haven’t started a progression of speed development, as speed takes time).

Want an 800m runner to be able to “get out” in the first 50m and run a slight positive split race between the first 400m and the second 400m? Similarly, do you want them to come through 600m at a blistering pace and then run a solid last 200m, which will likely result in passing several competitors? Or maybe you believe the the only way to run the event is to run even splits?

Have you empowered the 1,600m runners to deal with the pace changes and “moves” that typify great races at that distance? Can they go out slow and run each successive 400m faster than the previous? Can they go out hard for 800m or 1,000m, then decelerate a bit for the next 400m or so, then be able to switch gears and run faster…and switch again if need be, running their fastest?

Do you want to see a 3,200m runner simply get on his or her edge for that race and run eight even splits, or do you expect to see some faster laps (or at least a faster 200m) at the end of the race?

I don’t go to high school meets weekly, so my opinion regarding these questions may be skewed. If you have some time (and I know you may not now that you’re back in school) I’d love to hear your opinions regarding these questions, specifically, how you think athletes should run each of the three disciplines.

I’m speaking in 10 days at the OATCCC clinic and I want to make sure I’m helping those in attendance. Thanks for your assistance.

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  • http://twitter.com/TravisTheRunner Travis Hutchinson

    I’m not a high school coach, but I believe coaches need to look at each athlete individually and look at strengths. I was a kid in high school that did best blistering the first 600m, then my mental strength hung on and allowed me to still be competitive the last 200m, even if I got passed by a few athletes.  At the city meet my senior year, I did this, and took 4th (I was ranked 14th). The top 2 passed me at 150m left, and they ran best with negative splits.

    You said it best(in regards to the individual) in this passage:

    “(i.e. you can’t expect a miler of average ability to be able to shift gears at 300m to go and again at 100m to go if you haven’t started a progression of speed development, as speed takes time).”

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    Thanks Travis.  Good insights.

  • Sedwards

    Good question to ponder since the high school where I coach is adding track this spring. However, after watching my sons run track for four years, in general I find that only the elite or top 1% can make much of the distinction or have the discipline to manage what you are discussing. 99% of the athletes running the 800 and 1600 the first 400 the fastest. In the mile they slow on the second just a few seconds or so, then make a dramatic slow down in the third, and run the last lap equal or a little slower than the secon. Most in the 3200 start pretty well for the 1200 or 1600 then surge and slow the last mile. I would be interested to hear how other hs coaches approach this problem in training.

  • Dom Newman

    Like Travis had said it really depends on the individual athletes and
    how they like to race or how they respond to different racing tactics. 
    Size of field may matter as well.  We have had races with up to 30 
    runners in the 3200, 24 in the 1600 and 16 in the 800. The first meet of
    the season I just tell them to toe the line and do what feels natural
    to them.  Sometimes it works other times they are left gasping, wishing
    that they had used another strategy.  After a couple of races the
    athletes and I will sit down and discuss how they should race according
    to their strengths and weakness.  We will also look at their competition
    and make changes based on that as well.

  • Guest

    I am all about running even splits.  I had a sophomore last year run 9:37 in our state’s largest invitational (late March). We focused specifically on running 72’s in training, and he pretty much pulled off 8 x 72 in the race.  If I’m not mistaken, most physiological data suggests even/negative splitting to be most efficient.  But we have to train for that, which includes convincing your athletes to trust their sense of pace even though they’re way back or even off the back after 800 meters.  In my opinion, when people say “I run best by going out hard and then holding on,” what they really mean is “I have convinced myself that this is the best way to race, and now I’m afraid to try it any other way.”  It’s like the high school student who writes his essay the night before it’s due, then justifies it by saying “I work best under pressure.”  Fact is, you don’t, but you’ve decided you do.  In Bull Durham, Crash told Annie that if you think that wearing women’s underwear is making you pitch well, then it is.  Science says it’s not–just like science says even splits are best–but the athlete has to believe it.  In my program, we do our best to convince them of it.  With that said, I know plenty of programs that don’t.  Would they be better if they ran evenly?  Or would we be better if I just turned ’em loose?  Ah, that’s the art of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2218646 Nick Stanko

    I like to give my athletes a handful of different racing experiences.  Mainly we work on getting out fast, running even, or closing fast.  We compare how each of these feel.  I think it’s important for an athlete to be able to control what they are doing in a race and not just always going out there and running all out from start to finish.

    When an athlete runs a PR (or wants to run a one) I think it will more times than not be similar splits to what is done in a WR.  I think that would mean the 800 is out fast, the 1600 is even, and the 3200 would be even/negative.  Physiologically that is the best way to run those distances.The strategy we work on the most in closing fast in a race.  Most weeks we do some type of progression run in training.  Finishing strong both in training and racing builds a lot of confidence and having confidence is a big piece of racing well.  Every athlete on our team can run a successful progression run… and at the same time the best runner on the team can screw up this workout and “fail” by not progressing.In most of our dual meets the distance runners have the privilege of not having to race all out.  We work on sitting off the leader and then closing over the last 600-400 very fast.  This also allows them to triple or quadruple in the meet and not have to race every event at maximum effort.  Another plus to not having the top runners take it out from the gun is that it keeps the younger runners in the race longer.  This allows them to learn how to race tactically and builds their confidence because they are running with the “big guns”.I think it’s important for coaches to have a reason for how their runners are running their races… not always chasing a PR.  Give runners different experiences so they can learn to race in a variety of situations.  Every race is not a time trial to set a PR.

  • cp

    Great questions and I would have to lean toward the individual strengths/weaknesses of the athletes. Some kids are confident with racing evenly and allowing a gap to form and waiting later in the race to kick down the kids who went out too fast while others need that contact with a pack (even if it is a little quick for them) to pull them through. (mostly with 3200m)

    Either way with track I think it is important to keep lap splits and discuss the races with the kids afterwards; part of the learning process. If a 5:20 miler goes out in 65 I think they will learn something pretty important from that experience. 

    A major idea that I try to get them to learn is that there is always a little more they could have done…too many times I’ve seen kids who run that last 200m (of 1600/3200) in 30-32 seconds and if they had used that energy throughout the race the overall time would have been much faster.

    Mainly I’d say try and learn something from every race, be it a dual meet that is tactical to the biggest invite in the region which is fast. This way when they get to the end of the season meets they can hopefully react to what is happening and have a positive experience. 

    (side note: also with state competitors I try to let them be aware of other athletes in the field and maybe their tendencies of racing. Being as prepared as possible could be the difference between second place or state champ; or 9th place or on the podium)

  • green cleveland coach

    I take race day conditions into consideration a lot.  Being in Cleveland
    near a lake, in March and April, we have tons of wind and very chilly
    temps.  My team also has not had any seasoned distance runners since I
    became coach last year.  All that said, for 1600 and 3200, in large
    meets where I know there are at least a couple teams with runners who
    can really mash, I tell my best to get out quick with them and draft. 
    Fatigue on lead runners in the wind we experience is very rough and we
    can benefit a great deal from hanging tough and getting up in the
    rankings as high as we can.  If the race was in a vacuum and I had fast
    seniors running on my team (not avg sophomores) or even a large team
    where sophomores and juniors could really push each other, I’d say
    (1,600/3,200) run the first turn hard on a little adrenaline, settle
    into your fastest sustainable split and run the mid section of the race
    at even splits, then empty the tanks at the last 200m. 
    Sorry coach, I posted this in general comments too, then I read all the great feedback below and decided to write a bit more. 
    Here’s what I have to add… to quote cp, “Mainly I’d say try and learn something from every race, be it a dual
    meet that is tactical to the biggest invite in the region which is fast”.  I couldn’t agree more.  From a new coach perspective and a runner perspective this is very true.  I told my best distance runner from last year, a sophomore who eventually PR’d at 4:45/10:30 some advice before his first race.  I said, okay, this is your first real race.  I want you to do it exactly how you did at practice when you paced me at a 5 flat, then killed me on the sprint.  He went out with guns blazing, taking a 200m lead, only to have 3 runners from our biggest rival, who ran in a group, all pass him in the last lap.  It was painful as a coach to watch, but I knew he had to get it out of his system and learn his own lesson.  He ran way slower than he was capable of purely because he raced poorly.  For the next 5 races he cut over a minute using the pace and out kick technique.  He learned and benefited.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KRIXL7URWLJ2LBS4IM4R3EHREA Matthew

    Great, insightful comments so far. Just to emphasize some of the ones that most resonated with me:

    Only a handful of kids at HS level run based on splits suggested by a coach. Nearly all are reacting to the competition, how they’re feeling, what their experience has been, etc. Nothing can take the place of experience.

    A local coach here — who was a 4 min guy in college and whose son at one point had the year’s fastest 800 time in the state — said it was physiologically optimal to run positive splits in the 800, because of the fast-use energy ready for the first 400 in the muscles. 

  • Anonymous

    While I agree that near-even pace is probably the most physiologically sound strategy for all middle distance events, I think that positioning is more important for HS 800/1600 runners. So, in an important race, it is probably more advantageous to go out harder than you’d like to maintain contact with those people you want to beat, because a young runner will probably freak out if he/she has to make up too much ground. I ran a lot of 800s in my day and didn’t win any when I had to pass the whole field; I’ve coached a lot of good 800 runners who’ve had similar experiences.

    I do think there’s more time in a 3200 to give some ground and gradually work your way back up to a leader(s) who went out too fast.

    I think the 1600 is a race in which you need to have several strategies honed–I guess I’ve seen more weird things happen at that distance than the other two.

  • Anonymous

    Jay,  There are a lot of factors that would determine the splits for the 3 distance / mid-distance races at the high school level.  The quick answer is “as close to even as possible”.  For a good (not great) high school 800m person, lets say a 2:00 flat male or a 2:20 female, I’d most often prefer and preach a positve split with maybe a 2 second faster 1st lap.  For a 1600m person I think even splits are best with the 1st and 4th laps being about 2 seconds faster than the 2nd and 3rd.  In a 3200 meter race I find the best effort times come from relatively even splits.  Again the 1st and the 8th lap may be a couple of seconds faster than the rest. 

    The three big factors I see that would change my answer are 1)  the quality of the runners in a race – faster races with very fast kids must have runners that can negative split.  Then 2)  the magnitude of the race.  As kids get into races where place is far more important than time the ability to change paces late in a race is critical.  And 3) altitude – not a factor for your Ohio presentation, but for us in the west positive splits of greater than a small margin  can become a death sentence for a runner’s race. 

    Obviously, even splits and even effort are two far different things.  Patience, not an easy thing for a young runner, not an easy thing for all of us that want, want, want and expect for it to come instantly.   A young runner that has the right balance of the personal charastics  pateince and agressiveness is a golden gift that has come from a magical running land.  -Adam   

  • Cross Coach from PA

    I coach at the High School level cross- indoor- and outdoor.   I agree with one of the posters below, that most HS kids cannot switch gears properly without a cue- but it is something that you can mimic in practice.
    We do “pursuit drills” in each of the three seasons.   Break the distance kids up into packs of 3.    Have them run 6 laps on the track and each kid leads for 2 of the laps.   Kid A dictates the pace for his 2 laps…he gets to pick a spot on lap one where he “kicks it up” for 100m and the other 2 kids trail him;  the remaining 300m is easy but dictated at Kid A’s easy pace.   On lap 2, he does the same thing.   Then its Kid B’s turn..then Kid C’s turn.
    We do “pursuit drills” in the context of a mixed strength workout.   That is do some flex/mobility exercises.  Then 6 laps of pursuit drills.   Do some general strength.  Then 6 laps of pursuit drills.  Do some plyo/med ball work.   Then 6 laps of pursuit drills.
    Mixing in the ancillary stuff gets the body used to the feel of tired at a meet.   Groups of 3 works nice  so you can sort them or they can sort themselves.   Everyone gets a chance to lead and know the feeling of footsteps on your back and controlling the pace.   The ones not leading understand how to move based on a physical cue.

  • Matthew Barreau

    College coach here… so obviously answers may be related more to athletes with a little more race experience. To avoid as many “based on the individual” comments throughout my post, I’ll speak as though we are covering some who have a chance of COMPETING in a race. (Competing = ability to actually execute a race plan, regardless of their ability level.) I would also like to qualify my comments below with the fact that I don’t much like tactical racing that isn’t near an athlete’s ability (i.e. Men’s NCAA 1500’s that go out in 2:10)… therefore most of my race plans are set up to be near that athlete’s best. Therefore we only have to be tactical with the people around our ability level, and not everybody in the race.

    OK… onto the events. First, I break each of them into four segments: Get out. Maintain. Punch the third. Race the fourth. If you do these, then the “bonus” segment is the “kick”: that final, one last gear that you reserved for the homestretch to battle to the end.

    800m – Going to be a positive split race. Just is. I’m largely a fan of getting out pretty aggressively in this race, and hitting the third 200m with an extra punch. How hard? I tell them that somewhere around the exchange zone I want to be able to see a noticeable rhythm change, and they can go as hard as they would like but that they need to “save one gear” for the end. (Note, I said RHYTHM change not pace change: I’m a process guy… focus on process, desired result will happen.) This was the case when I had a 1:49 boy who liked to front-run (like Rudisha) and go out in 51-52, and also when I had a 2:08 sit-and-kick girl (like Wheating/Andrews/Symmonds) who seemed intent on giving me a heart attack by giving the field a 15m lead with 300m to go. While both were successful, I believe the boy was competitive in more races because he was always in the race with 200m to go. Especially in this race, where the margin for error is amplified with only two mins of running, I think it’s more advantageous to be a little more on the risk side of things. Not much time to screw something up and recover.

    1500/1600m – Very similar to the 800m, I break it into four parts and tell the athletes to “PUNCH” the third section. First lap you need to establish a good rhythm. (Sidenote: yes, even if you are the one leading… I think it’s better to be leading and be in a rhythm you’re more used to than to trail in a significantly different rhythm just to avoid leading. So even in the most adverse conditions possible, if a 65s pace is your ‘norm’ I’d rather my athlete be leading in 30mph winds in a 68-70 than to be playing a game of “who-can-lead-while-running-slowest” contest in 75s.) Second lap you will need to slightly increase the effort in order to maintain your rhythm. Third lap I believe they need to make their move to position themselves exactly where they want, so that when everybody makes a move with a lap to go they aren’t left scrambling. Pushing the third lap is also a way to get rid of some pretenders that are still hanging on. And, really, my contention is that slower third laps are out of laziness moreso than actual fatigue (in “generic” race patterns). Think of elite rabbited 1500m races: generally a rabbit will get them through 800m and another will go to 1k. When the rabbit drops at 800m, it always seems like the next guy “punches” it a little and gives it more effort, generally to maintain the same rhythm/pace. Final 300m is just race as necessary.

    3200m – This race varies more in time (9:00 for elite boys and 12-13min for girls) than the other races, so my approach varies a little. With the boys I generally approach approach it from the training time zones: the time zone around 3min when the body starts truly becoming aerobic-system reliant, and around 5-6min when it might want to settle. (People do a LOT of training up to the 5-6min range with mile repeats… but how often do we train the 6-8min “switch” that I think happens?) So, race strategies are again generally broken into four segments: first 3-4mins get into a rhythm, second 2-3mins up the effort slightly to maintain that, then around 6min or so you should punch it pretty good for about 60-90s, then you’ll be racing the last 60-90s. For the girls, I wouldn’t say it’s night-and-day, but if I had the slower ones put effort changes at 3 and 6min or so, they’d still have half the race left. And concentrating for the second half of the race for 3200m is MUCH different than half the race for the shorter races. (I wouldn’t reasonably expect high levels of success to come in a 3200m when at a mile I yell “just give me two good laps” then again with 800m to go I have to ask them to give me “just one more” then again with one lap to go expect them to now race.) So with them, I mostly ask them to grind away at a solid pace until the “time-left-in-the-race” marks… related to the question: “how long can I reasonably expect them to stay focused?” Perhaps it’s slightly naive or not totally in line with physiology, but I work backwards with the “30-40s for all-out effort” range and the approx. “3min aerobic” range. That usually is around the 1000-1200m to go mark. So, grind away until then (yes, I sometimes break that down mentally for those who need it into the usual first two segments: get out, maintain), and then give me a good 600-800 “punch” and that’ll get you to about 300m to go… where you race.

    While I believe that even/negative splits are probably the most physiologically productive throughout races longer than 800m, I think that COMPETING is more important. Does that mean I have a 4:20 miler (65’s) go out in 58-60 with the leaders? Absolutely not. But if he needs to get out in 62 to be connected/within range of them, then that is ok. Two reasons I don’t really care if a race positive splits a little, or if somebody gets out a little too fast:

    1) If you aren’t near the leaders, it doesn’t matter.
    2) You just never know… this could be your day.

    Can’t tell you how many times I think coaches limit their athletes’ breakthroughs because they expect small PR’s or because they focus too much on splits. My best example is an 800m college freshman I was working with a few years ago. HS PR of 51/1:59. 5’10 or so but super scrawny and weak. Couldn’t handle volume and never showed a ton of speed or power. Ran 1:59/1:58 most of indoor and outdoor. Thought from workouts he could go 1:56 or better, so we always set out to do that… and races generally unfolded similarly each time “just missing” the breakthrough and fading to 1:58/59 in still-pretty-good races. Finally one day I told him we were just going to take a shot. Sent him out in a solid rhythm and told him to punch the third like he had to get to the 600m line on fire. Did it, and was so excited about that rhythm and being in the race for the win that he brought it home… 1:53. I’ve always reflected on that day wondering if me setting him up for some 1:56-1:57 races made him underachieve at 1:58-1:59???

    I could go on… but I feel like there would be a lot of repeating. Questions? Feel free to post/respond/e-mail. Personal e-mail is riaarunnerboy(at)gmail.com

    (*Why do I like four race segments? Because the human brain can remember things nicely in groups of four. Think of phone numbers: broken into no more than four digits. Think of credit cards: four groups of four digits. Thing of a many of the workouts you may do, and there is a good chance it is broken into segments with at most four parts.)

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    Wow.  9:37 is a sophomore is impressive.

    Great comment – love the Bull Durham reference.

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    This is my view of the events…but it’s colored by spending hundresds of hours at college and post-collegiate meets and only dozens of hours at high school meets (and very good HS meets – i.e. either recruiting at the state championship or recruiting at a national meet like Arcadia or the NTN meet).

    “When an athlete runs a PR (or wants to run a one) I think it will more times than not be similar splits to what is done in a WR.  I think that would mean the 800 is out fast, the 1600 is even, and the 3200 would be even/negative.  Physiologically that is the best way to run those distances.” – Nick Stanko

    …by the way, you can read about Nick’s race at the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials at this link. I’m in awe that he finds time to teach, train and coach (in addition to family life).

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    “The strategy we work on the most in closing fast in a race.  Most weeks we do some type of progression run in training.  Finishing strong both in training and racing builds a lot of confidence and having confidence is a big piece of racing well.  Every athlete on our team can run a successful progression run… and at the same time the best runner on the team can screw up this workout and “fail” by not progressing.” – Nick Stanko
    This is one of my fundamental beliefs in coaching.  That we need to empower the athlete with the ability to run faster at the end of the race than the run at the beginning…or in the case of the 800m, to be able to pass people in the last 200m who are decelerating.

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    Thanks Matt.

    One thing that hasn’t come up: Where should the coach stand during the race?

    If you stand at the 200m mark then the athletes gets twice as much data throughout the race (assuming there are 400m splits being read).

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    Thanks Matt.  I think the distinction between the important races and the “average” mid-week race is key – keeping contact at the end of the season is important (as others have pointed out).

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    Thanks Adam – great concise breakdown of the three events and specific times per 400m.

  • http://coachjayjohnson.com CoachJay

    WOW!  Love this idea.  I’ve been stuck using circuits of more threshold pace running, then general strength and mobility work (<a href="http://www.coachjayjohnson.com/2010/08/running-times-circuits-parts-1-2-and-3/"like this).  This workout sounds fantastic.  Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Rob Hipwood

    As others have pointed out, there are always individual strengths to consider and exceptions to the norm, but here is what we’ve seen more often than not:

    800: PR’s are almost always run with a positive split.  Strong, experienced runners can also run very well with even or slightly negative splits.  Young, inexperienced athletes rarely run well without a positive split.  They don’t seem to have the strength, either physically or mentally, to change gears during the 2nd lap.

    1600: I agree with Adam.  I think most at the HS level (at least in NM) run well, PR or place, with the 1st and 4th lap being slightly faster than the middle 2 laps.  In most cases in New Mexico, the last lap for the top finishers at big invites and state championships will be their fastest of the race.  From time to time, you’ll also see a race where a group of fast, experienced kids show some restraint early and then each lap will get progressively faster.  Maybe the 2nd lap is slower than the 1st in some cases, but they’ll end up running a negative split with the 3rd and 4th laps being the quickest.

    3200: Even pacing is great and when an inexperienced athlete finally puts a relatively evenly paced race together, they are usually rewarded with a nice PR.  Big races, state meets, etc. require that the very top kids be prepared for a fast final 400 to 800 meters.  I would say most of our state championship 3200s have a negative split, sometimes a small one when the pace is quick early on, but other times it’s much greater after a modest 1st mile.

    More often than not in both the 16 and 32, the last lap for the top runners in New Mexico is their fastest of the race.  There are obviously exceptions when someone puts the hammer down early and they’re hanging on late, but training your kids to run fast late in the race is a must.  We try to work on speed development throughout the year.

  • Matthew Barreau

    A lot of that discipline (or strength) is easily coached with shorter/”boring”/repetitive reps with shorter rest… One of my favorites – which I use with my college team – to teach consistency/rhythm is 18x300m: three sets of 5x300m at mile pace or ‘just barely’ slower with 100m jog (30-40s) … 300m jog backward on track between sets (2-4min). Then the last set of 3x300m is cutdown with a 100m walk (1min). Start at least where you were running for pace, then next two faster.

    5400m is not a lot to ask a kid to do, even at mile pace, because the distance the segments they are running are short. Repetitive workouts like this will condition the body AND mind into being able to be strong and consistent.

    But much like my post above says – in many more words – I think that it is important to be more towards the competitive side of things (even if it means going out a little harder) than conservative. After all, when fitness gains happen, you’ll already be comfortable being nearer/at the front!

  • Matthew Barreau

    I referenced this exactly in my post above… but here’s the part that’s applicable to this post:

    While I believe that even/negative splits are probably the most
    physiologically productive throughout races longer than 800m, I think
    that COMPETING is more important. Does that mean I have a 4:20 miler
    (65’s) go out in 58-60 with the leaders? Absolutely not. But if he needs
    to get out in 62 to be connected/within range of them, then that is ok.
    Two reasons I don’t really care if a race positive splits a little, or
    if somebody gets out a little too fast:

    1) If you aren’t near the leaders, it doesn’t matter.

    2) You just never know… this could be your day.

    Can’t tell you how many times I think coaches limit their athletes’
    breakthroughs because they expect small PR’s or because they focus too
    much on splits. My best example is an 800m college freshman I was
    working with a few years ago. HS PR of 51/1:59. 5’10 or so but super
    scrawny and weak. Couldn’t handle volume and never showed a ton of speed
    or power. Ran 1:59/1:58 most of indoor and outdoor. Thought from
    workouts he could go 1:56 or better, so we always set out to do that…
    and races generally unfolded similarly each time “just missing” the
    breakthrough and fading to 1:58/59 in still-pretty-good races. Finally
    one day I told him we were just going to take a shot. Sent him out in a
    solid rhythm and told him to punch the third like he had to get to the
    600m line on fire. Did it, and was so excited about that rhythm and
    being in the race for the win that he brought it home… 1:53. I’ve
    always reflected on that day wondering if me setting him up for some
    1:56-1:57 races made him underachieve at 1:58-1:59???

  • Matthew Barreau

    I KNOW PEOPLE ALWAYS LIKE SEEING WORKOUTS, so in addition to my long post, here’s another totally dedicated to workouts. With regard to changing gears, I have a couple workouts I have implemented over the years that deal directly with this…

    Two workouts as “prep” that deal with pace-change during the workout that I use primarily in the fall (but are still great ‘moderate’ workouts to keep throughout the year), and two workouts that deal specifically with pace-change within a rep that are used more mid-to-late track season.

    Throughout the year as “prep” for changing gears we use two workouts:

    1) 1000-800-600-400-200 (10-8-6-4-2) with equal distance jog rest. Start at 3k line and you’ll finish at finish line. We start at 5k
    pace for the 1k, then drop down 3-4sec/rep. Roughly it’s 5k/3k/1500m/800m/400m pace. For ease I usually start at a multiple of 4
    and then cutdown by 4s each rep. So, for a 16:40 boy it’d be 80s for the 1k, then 76/72/68/64. For a 20:00 girl it’d be 96/92/88/84/80

    Yes, this is a lot of rest at the beginning, but the goal of the wkt is cutting down. BTW even with the bigger rest, cutting down from the 1000m to the 800m (and somewhat to the 600m) seems to be the hardest (because aerobically the time spent running a 1k and an 800m are not much different as far as the lungs are concerned: 3:20 and 2:32 in this example). Cutting down for 400/200m are easy and you usually see bigger drop offs. The great secondary thing to this workout besides allowing your athletes to cut down is that it can be a terrific indicator of how their aerobic system is developing. First, if they can’t cut down with that much rest then they need A LOT more work. Second, if their cutdown for the 400/200m is significantly greater than the other cut downs, then it also shows you how poorly their aerobic system is trained. Roughly speaking, there should be a “+4” rule when it comes to PR’s: 400m PR = 56, then 800m should be 2:00 (56+4=60), 1600m PR should be 4:16, 3200m PR should be 9:04, and 5k PR (track) should be 15:00.

    This is one of my favorite 2-3 day out “tune-up” workouts before a race in XC (or for 5k kids on the track). Even though 3k worth of work is a very light day for us, it seems to give them ‘enough’ to do without feeling underworked. And even for lower volume teams, this in total is only 6k of running (+WU/CD) and is highly manageable.

    2) 600-400-300-200-100 w/200m jog rest. Start at start/finish line and you’ll end there as well. We use the same paces as the wkt above (5k/3k/1500m/800m/400m) and try to keep the 200m jog in the 30-40s range.

    This is often done once a week at the end of easy days. I usually have a “flex” day in training as my way of individualizing workouts for the 40 athletes I work with. I would throw in 1-2 sets of this (800m jog b/sets) at the end of their easy-to-steady pace run depending on how they feel. (See below for generic week set-up and where I would put this flex-day in.)

    Also, this is a great MD workout in the fall on its own. The most I’ve had people do is 4 sets of this. Each set comes out to about two miles (1600m hard running + 800m easy in set + 800m easy between sets). So, four sets would be 7.5-8 miles.

    Tu-hard wkt
    Th-flex day (light ftlk + 6-4-3-2-1; or steady + 6-4-3-2-1; or easy; or sometimes even off!… depending on athlete)

    While those workouts are good prep work, they don’t deal with pace-changes within the rep itself… which is what happens during races. For that, there are also two workouts I use that have specific pace changes during the rep:
    1) 800m runners – 3x600m w/5-8min rest … 400m at 800m pace, then 200m accelerate

    So, a 1:56 runner would run a 58 pace first 400m then go HARD (under control) for 200m. Then we’d do that three times. While you will be going out a little faster in the race than 800m avg pace I think “race day” will get them out faster naturally. So that same person may get out in 56 but will then have been trained to change gears (even if in this race distance it only means maintaining – or trying to maintain – that pace).

    To build up to this workout, we will do 6-7x400m at 800m pace with 400m walk-jog in 4-5min. And maybe even a 3x500m (400m at pace + 100m accel).

    2) 1600m/3200m runners – 3x1k w/8-10min rest … 800m at just slightly slower than 1600m pace, then 200m accelerate

    So, a 5:00 ‘miler’ (no, the 1600m is NOT a mile! – pet peeve) would do the first 800m in 2:32-34, then go hard for 200m. Doing the first one slightly slower than mile pace lets you see how the athlete looks that day, and gives you a better chance of even an “off day” for an athlete resulting in a cutdown for that last 200m. If they don’t cut down, ALTER OR CANCEL THIS WORKOUT!!! (The point IS TO CUT DOWN!)

    Depending on how good they’re looking, sometimes I will just tell everybody to lose their watches on the third one, and just get after it! If they’ve cut down dramatically on the first two and look good, I just let ’em loose. And contrary to the all caps above, I won’t care as much about the cutdown on the third. On that one, I want them to just FEEL like they have cut down, even if it ends up being even pace. Like a race. Increase effort = even pace. Best example for this workout I have is a boy I coached who ran 1:49/3:53:

    2:01.5-31.1 (let him just go)

    Generally the average of these three 1k efforts turns out to be about their current pace. This boy averaged 62.8 for this workout = 3:55.5 … and 11 days after he ran this workout he ran a 3:53.9.

    NOTE… even if you don’t straight up release them on the third effort, this is still a pretty intense workout because of the three hard finishes to each; this probably shouldn’t be done within a week of a big competition. I’d use these as one of my “10-day-out” workouts. (My last “important” workout is 10 days out from our big meets.)

  • Matthew Barreau

    Love it

  • Brian Seppala

    Wow, lots of great ideas here, my hand is sore from jotting all of them down and my brain is sore from trying to figure out how to make them work within my team setting and culture and training.

    Going back to the original question of how to race these races, I think a lot of it has to do with the magnitude of the race.  Early season races, run all-out.  Find your pace, find your style.  I give the kids a chance to figure out how they race, what they feel confident in doing, and if they fail, so be it.

    Middle of the season races, a balance between working on what they are weak in, and trying out new strategies.

    End of season championship races.  Run to win.  That means staying in contact with the pack, making your move at the time that works for you, finishing with great form, therefore running your race to the best of your abilities.  It means doing everything the prior commentors have mentioned.  This is not a time for experimentation or trying out new strategies, that should be all done.  It is a time to take all you have learned, and execute it fully. 

    Remember, we are dealing with *kids*;  kids who forget water bottles, who have drama, and who will not make a living from their running prowess.  It’s a process, and if kids can learn fromt his process, than I think it is a success.

    Brian “Sep” Seppala
    Chaparral HS

  • thomas_t

    Okay, I’m going to try a lot of little replies instead of one gi-normous post. I really like this comment (as well as a constitutional ammedment banning the DH and astro-turf I think there should be one requiring a “like” to any Bull Durham reference…although it sounds like something Crash said to Nuke not Annie…). It doesn’t matter what the phsysiology research says, how the World Records were set, the kids got to belief in the race plan to execute it.
    We had one parent who during the first running boom always beat the Kenyans in road races…for the first 400. His kid ran the same way…with similar results and lots of positive splits. Could he have run better even splitting? Who knows, but if he didn’t believe it, he wasn’t going to do it. To quote Bill Bowerman, the first thing you have to do to train a mule is get it’s attention. Some time that’s harder than others. But, like you said, that’s the art of it.

  • thomas_t

    I agree with Coach Kedge. The 800 is going to be a positive split affair but the nearer to even split it is the more likely you are to have a good race. Our philosophy is that it is the third 200 that really makes or breaks the race. If you can push here when the discomfort is starting to set in and have the strength to finish the fourth 200 chances are you will have a great race.
    I think Coach Kedge is also right on in his assessment of the 1500/1600. The first lap is usually one of the quicker laps: the gun goes off, you are full of adrenaline, being pushed and pulled by the pack, and the pace doesn’t hurt in the first four. The second lap is also going to be quick. Once the end is in sight, anyone can kick (kick being a relative term of course) but it is like a horse heading home for the barn. It’s the middle laps where it really takes the vision to hold your pace and resist the fatigue when it feels like you heart is pumping concrete through your veins. Same thing for the 3200/3k but over the longer distance a bit more regression to the mean (i.e. not as big of a difference between fastest and slowest laps/more consistent.)
    I think Coach Kedge makes a great point about even splits and even effort being far different things. The secret to distance running is maintaining the same pace as the effort to maintain it becomes greater and greater. I’m not sure if I could run world record pace for an 800 over 100m. But I think I probably could for the mile (1500) on up. The trick is the remaining 1400:)

  • thomas_t

    Wow, so much good stuff here. Great discussion. I have to agree with what seems to be the prevailing sentiment that *in general* even splits are the best way to go. My reasons for this being the World Record/physiologically argument and anecdotally. Most PR’s I have witnessed (or had) have been even/negative splits. So while I agree with posters like Travis who argue for individuality I think by and in large that individuality can fit into the even split paradigm.
    For example, Runner A graduated last year. She had PR’s of 2:15/4:44/10:08 (800/1500/3k). She is/was a real rhythm runner. Think of the super domestique in the Tour de France who grinds away at the front of the peloton “assassinating” the field. Runner B (PRs 2:18/4:43/10:23) is more of a sit and kick athlete. However, with in both of those individualities, both their PRs have been even/negative split races (Runner A is almost freakish in her ability to hit her splits while Runner B tends to be a little more varied).
    Part of the explanation for these varying styles of racing is Runner A was not confident in her kick, Runner B was confident in her kick (but sometimes lacked confidence in the middle laps). So obviously part of their training should be to address these (perceived) weaknesses. Which plays into something Guest addressed: whether it’s supported by science or not, the athlete has to believe in the theory of racing (be it positive, negative, or even). (I thought Crash said that to Nuke?).
    Obviously, the sport of track (and field) is about competing (or is it that obvious what with chasing times and rabbits etc). That being said, I really like how Mathew Barreau defines competing (the ability to actually execute a race plan regardless of ability level). I think this is important because yes, the ultimate goal is to win the race but for some that isn’t going to happen…ever. So for these kids (the bulk of the athletes we work with) the goal is run a PR. That might happen while competing for the win in a JV race, it may come running off the back of the pack in a varsity race (or a JV race).
    So, yes, I think competition is important, and I think competing (from the Latin to seek together) helps you run a better race, as Dirty Harry said, “A man’s got to know his limitations” and if you are an 11:00 3k runner, executing your race plan isn’t going out with kids who are going to run 10:00 (or as Matthew B said at 4:20 kid shouldn’t be going out in 58). This is something (going out too fast) that I see a lot of runners from smaller schools do: the first lap of their race is the same pace be it in an 800, 1500, or a 3k. I think Jack Daniels talks about this in one of the interviews from the first season of Thirsty Thursdays. There is also a great quote by him to effect of you are going to beat all the runners who you are better than because…well, you’re better. You are going to beat all the runners of equal talent because you are going to run a smart race. You are going to beat half the runners who are better than you because they run a stupid race.
    So how do you develop the tools? First off I think you have to start with the basics. For me most basic of basics is mileage. Within that mileage I like to work from both “ends” of the spectrum. For me that means steady state runs (fun fast or slightly slower than tempo) and Speed Development, whether it is on the flat or the hills. From the ends you work towards the middle. Long intervals get shorter and faster; short intervals get longer and slower. Once you have both a good aerobic and neuromuscular foundation you can start having some fun.
    I agree with Nick and think the progression run is a great tool. Another way of skinning the cat is to run some “cutdowns” after an otherwise easier run. Start off with a 200 and tempo and progress down to 1500 pace. I also like Cross Coach from PA’s pursuit drills and Matthew B’s workouts (although I am a little scared by 18 x 300. I am a little conservative and like to stick to Daniels 5% of mpw for R (1500/1600) pace. Obviously coaching more mature athletes versus high school athletes changes things a bit. Also, I assume Matthew’s athletes might not race every week like we do in high school).  We’ve attempted something similar to CC from PA’s pursuit drills in the past, a fartlek run where each runner gets to pick distance and speed etc but I think the pursuit drills do a good job of putting some parameters on the workout and preventing it from turning into a race (my experience) while accomplishing the same things. A couple of ideas. We do one where we run “off” distances, say 700s at 3k pace or 500s at 1500 pace (I think I stole this from you Jay). Each rep the last 80-100m is the “kick”. The last rep you run the last 300m “fast, faster, fastest.”
    The next workouts are a blend of tempo and faster work. The first we used as a “shakeout” or “maintenance” workout the week we were going a lot of racing. 2 x 1600 tempo (we threw in a little change of pace on the second one) then 100, 120, 140, 160, 180, 200 at maximum fast but relaxed (a little faster than 800 pace Runner’s A and B started out with a :17 and finished with a :32). A variation is 4 x 200 or 400 at 1500/3k 15-20 min tempo 4 x 200/400.

  • Matthew Barreau

    I’ve done the “Oregon” 1200-Tempo-1200 wkt, and also did a 4x300m – tempo – 4x300m for the really underdeveloped aerobically people (same 100m jog as my other 300m wkt). Really like it and try to use it a few times during XC and winter season. (Also, the 6-4-3-2-1 is a classic Oregon wkt.)

    With regard to 18x300m… I do 13x300m with some kids who may be a lot weaker (2 sets of 5 + 3)… but again that volume isn’t a lot if you control the pace. So even if you had to slow it down a little more toward 3k pace (especially the first set), or you just told them no spikes (which tends to slow things down a little anyway), then it’s not something I’m afraid of doing even the week of a race. I would do that a Wed before a Sat race anywhere up through mid-season. Main point is that most wouldn’t be afraid to do 3x1600m or 6x800m, so why is 18x300m scary with a 100m jog break? It’s basically a broken up version of the same thing. Pace is slightly faster because of the more frequent breaks, but doesn’t make it too much more taxing. And for a lot of the “younger/weaker” kids I would argue that this is some of the better “hardening” or “mind numbing” work that can help make races seem way easier. It goes by much quicker than you’d think.

    Sidenote… Before every track workout, we also do 5x200m w/100m jog (200m jog after the 4th makes this an even 1500m) at roughly mile pace at the end of our warmup. Funny how the athletes don’t even see this as “work” anymore, even though we just did 1k at mile pace in an aerobic fashion.

    And one other thing I wanted to comment on in your article… I love your working from both directions philosophy, as I try to do something very similar as well. However, I try to do more from looking at the “short and fast” side of things and building up… I try not to slow those things down, but merely extend the distance. And the longer stuff, instead of getting shorter/faster, I just try to keep those the same and make them faster as well.

    Short/”fast” and moving up:
    For example, those 5×200’s we do are something we do all year long (yes, even in summer). I just control the pace and volumes. So, summer might be 37 pace for 1-3 sets… and when they come back in the fall one of the first wkts we do is 25x400m which I would like in the 75 range… and then we get to 5-6x Mile that I would like close to 5:00’s… etc. What happens to the 200’s? They get a little faster… maybe 35 pace next time around (which is what strides were being done at… so the 100m strides just got extended to 200’s now). As strength at that speed improves and as some shorter acceleration or multijump work is done, strides become a little faster… 200’s become faster, etc.

    Long/”slow” and keeping same length just getting faster:
    Same idea as before with just extending the speed of things below it. So instead of doing a 30min tempo run at 5:30’s and a 20min tempo at 5:20’s… I’ll try to extend each of the paces… 5:20’s for 30min, 5:30’s for 40min, etc. Steady runs at 6:30 pace I will try to work toward those becoming our easy run days.

    In essence, I would like to “push” every pace up the ladder based on the fast end getting longer, rather than thinking of it as getting shorter/faster. Extremely minute, yet important in my mind, detail. I think telling kids we’re getting shorter/faster gives them the impression that we are going to lower volume of training. In fact, I really prefer to keep the volume pretty regular (which is what “extending your pace” implies to them). Even during Championship phases I keep most of their non-wkt days pretty similar, and only drop the total volume of work in the workouts… so I don’t think we drop even near close to the 75%/50% volumes that a lot of “peaking” models suggest over the last couple weeks. We might still be operating as high as 80-90% in many cases.

  • thomas_t

    Dang, I think there might finally be someone as wordy as me on the site:) Thanks for the comment. Lot’s of good points. Like I said, maybe I am a little conservative at times, but I do like to try to stick to the 5% rule. Not to say we don’t exceed it at times. We will do 3 x 4 x 400 (only 600 less than your 18 x 300) and 10 x 400 which for high school girls running 40 mpw in season is over 5%. This will only be my fourth year of designing the workouts so the jury is still out on whether any success we’ve had being the result of the kids or the training:)

    I wish I could attribute the quote but I read someplace “There is a time and a place for taking risks in training, high school is not one of them.” I’d much rather build someone up for success in college and beyond than squeeze them dry in high school. Not that 18 x 300 would do so, I think it would be manageable for more experienced athletes, just expounding a bit of my philosophy.

    You also make a good point about not slowing down the fast stuff. I guess that is more the way I look at things–two lines sloping upwards from both sides of the spectrum meeting in the middle–the “peak” race so to speak (har har). But in reality the what was “speed development” in the preseason (hill sprints and whatnot) takes the form of 400s and 800s during the season.

    One thing I forgot to mention–not so much particular to this discussion but the discussion at large–is the concept of last set, best set. This doesn’t mean sandbagging the bulk of the workout so you can blast the last one but I think it accomplishes a couple of things. One, high school can be a little over eager at times. So last set best set helps them budget their effort a bit, from going out and blowing their wad on the first rep. I’d much rather have 10 400s at 80 than one at 75 but only get 6 out of 10 in. It’s similar to something I heard Alberto Salazar say, that running at 90% for 12 months of the year is better than running at 100% for six months (obviously, someone like Dathan Ritzenheim can (almost) get away with the latter, but for high school kids who are still building their future, I think the former is the way to go.

    Second, it helps build mental toughness. Going into the last set/rep you are tired just like going into the last lap of a race. Still, like Coach Kedge alludes to, you want that last lap, set, rep to be the best. Again, last rep/set best rep/set doesn’t mean a gut busting effort (save that for the race). We only have one or two “see Jesus” workouts a season. The rest, we ideally want to feel like we could do one more rep.

    Be well, Thos

  • Matthew Barreau

    At a meet so gotta make this response quick… will post more later…

    But when I was at Northern Arizona University with Ron Mann, he would often have the “dog 1” rule in the workout: If you dogged the next to last one, it was your last one. So, you had to hit pace/give a great effort on the next to last one, then your reward was getting to do the last one and finish the workout. (Kinda like all my races being broken into four parts and pushing the third… your reward is getting to be “in the race” for the fourth part.)

    So, 10x400m at 80 pace wkt… if you were clipping along at 78-80 entire workout, but then #9 you went 82-83 (or something obvious that you relaxed to “save it” for the last one) then your workout was over. Ron said he’d rather see a 75 on the next to last one and an 82 then the opposite way around (if it meant you slowed your next to last one).

  • thomas_t

    I like that “Dog it” Rule. I guess I like to believe that if  athletes are not hitting their paces it’s for a different reason than dogging it (fatigue, stayed up too late writing a paper, coming down with a cold, coach over shot a bit in the workout assignments etc.) In addition to last rep, best rep, we also talk about how the penultimate is usually the hardest (because you still have one more) so that is where you have to be mentally tough. And then the last one, like you said, is the reward. But I totally agree, when  someone is not hitting the pace anymore it is time to adapt the workout. That may be cutting the workout short, maybe doing an extended cool down, or maybe it is cutting the distance down (200s instead of 400s). Good luck at your meet.

  • Adam

    im a highly ranked senior for track and cross country, i run the 3200m and 1600m, my times are 920 and 420. I run both the 1600m and 3200m with negative splits meaning the second half of the race is faster than the first. With the mile i try to stay consistant on each lap, with the 3200 i run 443-445 first mile and then 5th and 6th lap i push myself and the last 2 i simply try to hold on

  • George

    As a 1600 meter runner myself, I prefer to have a coach ever 200 m. This allows me to get more accurate splits and I got more motovation. I also tended to slow down on the back stretch, so having an extra coach there to read spliys helped me to correct that problem.

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  • T Neels

    Personally I try to get to my runners at both the 200 and 400 marks in both th 800 an 1600. This is assuming coaches are allowed on the infield which we are at most meets excluding state. This takes a lot of hustle on my part(especially in the 800) but if the kids see me busting my hump I think it helps them to give a little more. I am an even pacing believer and we work this on all interval days in practice. Nearly everything is done at or slightly faster than race pace and kids learn by the time they graduate exactly what pace they should be racing at. In 11 years I’ve had 9 kids who couldn’t break 2:10 as a freshman, running under 1:59 by the time they were seniors and all of them were very near running even/slightly positive splits by seasons end.

  • Stephen Boesch

    My experience in distances from 1600m is as you say: first 400m is fastest, then slower, slower, then fourth one is like the second. There is some research to support the negative splits approach: the body *feels* like it were working the same amount during each split. But being more tired in the latter laps means the same level of effort results in a slower pace. But then the last lap can be a “give it everything you have left” deal.