Ingredients for 1,600m success

This is an open invitation for input from the readership.  Here is what I came up and no doubt the following list of ten items can be improved.  I look forward to your comments below.

1. The 1,600m is roughly 80% aerobic and 20% anaerobic.  Thus, improving the aerobic metabolism is extremely important.

2. We will identify the critical zone for the 1,600m race in two parts – the last 400m and the last 200m. Specifically, for the 4:16 1,600m runner whose race averages out to 64 seconds per lap, the reality is that the runner needs to be able to run closer to 61 or 62 seconds in the final 400m and closer to 30 or 31 seconds for the final 200m.  We want to develop someone who can win tactical races, not someone who can only run evenly paced time trials.

3. The five biomotor abilities – strength, speed, power, flexibility and endurance – must be addressed throughout the weekly micro cycle.

4. Competency at five paces – 400m pace, 800m pace, 1,600m pace, 3,200m pace and 5,000m pace.

5. A progression of strides at 400m pace, 800m pace and 1,600m pace should begin as early as possible in the annual macrocycle.

6. Posture and biomechanics need to be optimized. A slight forward lean of 1º to 2º, allow the athlete to utilize the hip flexors and put force into the track, is the goal.

7. General Strength and Mobility (GSM) must be done daily to allow for the intensity and volume of the running training.

8. Speed Development work needs to be done periodically to improve not only maximum speed, but also to improve Running Economy (RE).

9. The ability to run several types of races – sit and kick race, evenly paced race and races where the paces speeds up, then slows – is critical.

10. Ideally, the 1,600m runner will have the speed and power and anaerobic capabilities of a capable 400m runner, as well as the “aerobic engine” of a 5,000m runner. When in doubt, the coach and athlete should come back to this duality and ensure that their training is empowering the athlete with the abilities of both a 400m runner and a 1,600m runner.

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  • CoachJay

    Here is a great read by Patrick McHugh, coach at North Shore Country Day in Chicago.  He coached Peter Callahan, now a Princeton athlete, in high school.  The title is simply Training a 4:05 High School Miler.

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  • Pete

    Nice post (and link) 

    I’m wondering if Jay and others can comment on how you might work this into a very truncated schedule – March 12: 1st practice -> May 26: Goal race, especially if indoor has been short, fast stuff with very little aerobic base (or another sport altogether) 

  • Sedwards

    Thanks for sharing this, very informative. I coach at a small private hs with no track, so this is inspirational and directly applicable to our training.

  • JR

    We fit most of what Jay is talking about into a Jan-May time schedule. By March 12 our aerobic endurance work, our GSM work, and Speed Development work have all reached their peak in terms of effort and volume; as we begin to focus on Lactic Resistance and Aerobic Power. Not sure the 80% of aerobic metabolism can really addressed effectively in such a short period of time. I’d suggest giving your athletes a Jan-Mar program to address the strength, speed and aerobic elements that they can do on their own, very similar to Summer Cross Country training.

  • Peter Rodrigues

    Agreed, but I don’t control what they do before March as I am not the coach during xc or winter track. 

  • Andrew

     This is a situation I’m in as well. I’m a middle school track coach, and I always have a handful of very talented boys that are running 4:55-5:15 as 7th and 8th graders. Every year I’m looking to tailor the training a bit better, but at times the time crunch makes it very hard. Unfortunately, I’m not the XC coach, and we don’t have any sort of winter track. I do a “winter track club” with kids to work on aerobic base, but that’s not really the same as working a Jan-May schedule.

    Of course, I’d be looking for something tailored to the top boys. I also have a good deal of 7:00 milers with whom we’re just working on developing aerobic ability and a love for the sport.

  • Matthew

    The single most important bit of advice our daughter ever received was to think of the 1600 as a three-lap race. Stay in contention for three laps, and don’t think about the last lap (trust your training for the last lap).

  • Anonymous

    I look at the training for any race distance as a meeting of extremes in terms of training pace, specific skills, and natural ability. The mile is no different. Early in one’s preparation, I believe there should be almost equal time spent training the neuromuscular system as there is the aerobic system. As the season progresses, one’s specific workouts will eventually meet at goal mile pace or in a blend of stresses to simulate the physiologicl demands of a race. When theses stresses come together within 2-4 weeks of a goal competition, the athlete is able to perform optimally on the big day. I shy away from using the phrase “peak”, because I don’t like the idea of descension. Building, ever building, is far more appealing to me as a coach and athlete. Intelligent progression, keeping every element of training active (including regular rest and recovery) prevents the necessity for base building after an athlete has reached physical/competitive maturity.

  • CoachJay

    My first thought is you have to start where you are.  If they’re not very fit aerobically, then a hard long run isn’t realistic.  Similarly, you have to figure out where they are neuromuscularly – can they handle a bunch of 150’s at 800m pace or do they need to slow things down and try to run some 150’s at just 1,600m pace.  So have a progression in mind of 800m pace and 1,600m pace work and then see where they are, then start your progression with them.

    I would definitely consider some circuit workouts if they’re behind aerobically –  These workouts are tough, but they’re a great way to get a lot of work and in my mind they’re safer than some other workouts because you’re running less to get a long aerobic stimulus.  Be sure to have a couple of easy days following the circuit.

    Good luck Pete.

  • CoachJay

    Thanks JR.  

    One important point for us all to remember is that the aerobic system can developed season after season, year after year.  This is why it’s exciting to have freshman come out for track – they have three more years to develop their aerobic metabolism.

  • CoachJay

    The following article, titles “The Jump” focuses on summer training and how to make a jump in performance from the end of the track season to the upcoming cross country season.

     The principles are the same going from cross country to outdoor track, though there is an issue with weather (and that impacts both mileage and the ability to safely run race pace strides).

  • CoachJay

    Thanks Matt – good advice.

  • CoachJay

    Thanks so much for this important concept – that you’re training two extremem ends of a spectrum (with fast, neuromuscular work on one end and aerobic running on the other end) and that race lies in the middle.  This is how I’ve approached working with post-collegiate athletes and it’s always worked well, even if their primary event is the half marathon.  

    And thank you for bringing up the issue of peaking.  We need to get rid of that concept – a good training program, coupled with a big, solid foundation of fitness, will allow an athlete to run well both throughout the season as well as for several weeks in a row at the end of the season.

  • Charlie Brenneman

    Jay, if they cannot run a good mile due to lack of fitness, then the 150s at 800 pace is not the 800 pace we think it is. It’s still slow. If they do it at 1600 pace it’s almost too slow, and so they wouldn’t be in the best running cadence, form that we’d like.  Until they reach a point where their 1600 matches more or less with their 400 I suggest they run a good 800 first. Then train at those paces because it won’t be too fast, and is still good aerobic development.

    Agree on the circuits, good way to exercise and keep breathing/working muscles without continuous running.

  • JR

    A clarification on my use of the word “peak.” I was speaking with respect to the type of workout and in terms of the volume and effort. PeytonH and Jay mentioned working on the “exterme ends of the spectrum.” Canova likes the funnel metaphor where you start at the edges and work towards the middle along with the idea of extension. We do the same, starting with the edges, working to extend them in terms of volume or effort, and then take a step towards the middle, and extending again. 

    I was using “peak” to describe reaching the limit of a particular extension for a particular workout. For example, you may have a 1600m runner build up to an hour and half aerobic run by Feb, but you won’t keep extending to reach 2 hours by May. That particular workout has “peaked,” and a new stimulus is required, most likely a faster tempo run at a shorter distance. 

  • CoachJay

    Thanks for making the distinction.  I was referring to the idea of peaking as part of periodization – i.e. peaking for the state meet.  

    Thanks for bringing up Canova’s funnel metaphor because that is exactly what I’m talking about.

  • CoachJay

    Good points.  I don’t have much experience working with athletes who are out of shape, but no doubt many high school coaches have do deal with this challenge when athletes come out for track for for the first time.

    Perhaps weekly speed development workouts like the one below would be helpful.

  • usccrosscountry

    I coach HS kids in xc, indoor, and outdoor.  The speed development workouts are critical to do about every 10-14 days.   The kids need to be able to vary pace and get their legs used to a quick turnover.   If a lot of your kids workouts are at different paces on different terrain, then speed development is all the more critical.  
    5 years ago, I would have thought that “speed” of any type should NOT be introduced at all until the last quarter of the training cycle.   However, you cannot expect a high school kid to know “fast” if they have not been given an opportunity to learn “fast.” 
    Incorporating the circuits will also build those HS as runners but more so their confidence as athletes.   We have had a lot of our kids step up as leaders during our weekly circuit workouts- it sharpens the mental edge.

  • CoachJay

    Thanks for the contribution.  I don’t know what your speed development workouts look like, but here is my suggestion (article and video) –

    Similarly, there is a speed development day (marked in blue) every other week in this 13-week training program for a veteran 1,600m runner –

    Thanks again for the contribution.

  • Anonymous

    I love the videos you have produced on speed development, Jay, and I have found that such sessions work wonders to hone one’s muscular coordination and biomechanical efficiency at high speeds. However, I use workouts like that more during developmental blocks of training when racing is kept to a minimum. During the final 8 weeks before a goal race, if I deem the athlete’s economy well-trained, I shift the development of speed to more specific modes of transfer in relation to the goal race distance; this typically equates to either speed endurance or finishing speed, the distance/velocity of which varies from athlete to athlete (a “kicker” can hone their closing speed from 300m out, whereas a less speedy runner may need double that distance or more to beak their competition). Let me also note that I currently only coach two 800-1500m runners (a male and female with very fast times in mind), so my experience in this department is largely what I have bumped down from 5k-10K training.

    Sample Specific Speed Workouts for the 1500-3000m (Generic)

    WU, 2K Moderate Progressive Tempo, 2x (3x400m @ 5K, 3K, 1500m Pace w/ 200m EZ Rec), 600m @ 1500m Pace, 400m Jog, 300m @ Best Daily Effort, WD

    WU, 4K Progressive Tempo from Marathon Pace to 5K Pace (off track), 4x 50-70m Max Hill Sprints, 3K Progressive from HM-5K Pace, 4x Max Hills, 2K Progressive from 10K-5K Pace, 4x Max Hills, WD

    WU, 3200m @ HM-10K Pace, 400m EZ, 1600m of Stride/Floats, 400m EZ, 1K @ 3K Pace, 400m EZ, 600m @ 1500m Pace, 400m EZ, 400m @ 800m Pace, 400m EZ, 6x 150m RQF Strides (Relaxed for 50m, Quick for 50m, Fast for 50m) w/ 250m EZ, WD   

  • Ryan West

    I have had a bit of a personal epiphany regarding speed early on this season that might be helpful to others. I used to equate speed with lots of race pace and faster repetitions to be done at the end of the season when they can handle that volume and pace of work. Consequently, our team did lots of slow running for our long runs and recovery days with a few obligatory strides thrown in. Looking back, our entire team were “sloggers” who had the classic distance runner form of no leg lift, slow foot turnover, etc.

     This year, everything is about speed and form. We are doing strides, hill sprints and short accelerations early on while keeping the volume low. We are also working on form (turnover especially) using a Mach drill progressions (marches, skips, run), hip mobility (Myrtl) and strength (circuits, Vern’s leg circuit). In two weeks, I have seen drastic changes in the form of many runners. As an example, we had a runner with a 4:53 mile PR run 4:28 at a jamboree this weekend. There were other factors involved such as a good amount of off-season running, had a lot of strength and the race set-up well for him but I have no doubt he could not have run that time without a change in his form. I didn’t think he had any foot speed and was shocked to see him kick down a runner who is a sub 2 min 800m guy.

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  • Devo

    These seem to be good, useful tenets for physically developing middle-distance runners but I would caution not ignoring the mental aspects. These races are very psychologically demanding (heck, training is, too) and I think that addressing that element is essential. This can include:

    1. Goal setting and the concept of incremental improvement
    2. Visualization and pre-race stress management
    3. How to pace workouts (since inability to complete them can kill the self confidence)
    And 4., in a dovetail with the physical aspects, workouts that can acclimate athletes to the demands of racing, include breakaway and sit-and-kick races

    As a concrete example, I’ll mention my favorite “workout.” Normally, people recommend consistent pacing in workouts and time trials to maximize performance. It’s sensible, but it takes as it’s premise that the body is the limiter and the brain is simply a tool to get the work done. But what if the brain is a limiter, too? Meaning, if you pace consistently you set a limit on your performance from the outset and therefor a limit on achievement

    Hence the workout. Every so often I’ll try to do race-pace over-distance, generally one or two reps. E.g., run 800m at current PR race pace, and then try to keep going for an extra 200. Or 1200 at best place, plus an extra 400. It’s very demanding mentally but it shows that runners can be faster than they think.

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  • John Nassief

    Coach Jay, My son has just started Track this year in 7th grade. He has been playing soccer for most of his life but has really enjoyed running the 1600 the past few weeks. Obviously, in middle school the coaches have no idea how to train milers. I ran competitively the 1500m in college but that was back in the late 80’s. I never have trained a 13 year old before but want to give him some tips and workouts to do. Do you have advice for training the 1600m for middle school boys? Also, he ran a 5:37 last week so I think he has what it takes to get into the low 5’s by the end of the summer.

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