1600m Training: Making a Move with 500m To Go
The 1600m is a fantastic event for high school runners because it teaches them how to “cover moves” and to accelerate when they’re fatigued, skills that also translate to faster cross country races in the fall.
But a problem for many athletes is that the third lap is significantly slower than the other four laps. Kelly Christiansen, the coach at Niwot High School in Niwot, Colorado, calls this “the third lap problem.”
In this article, I’m going to give high school coaches a simple framework they can use to help their athletes run their best race and run down competitors in the final 500m of the race.
Ready? Let's go!
“Fast, Faster, Fastest” with 500m To Go
The framework we’ll use is one I talk about in Chapter 12 of Consistency Is Key: 15 Ways to Unlock Your Potential as a High School Athlete (you can get the chapter for free below).
Athletes need to be able to run “Fast, Faster, Fastest” in the last 500m of the race. That’ll be 200m fast, 200m faster, 100m fastest. This move will start 1100m into the race – so coming into the homestretch before the final lap.
Here’s what they’ll do in the final 500m of a well-run race.
The athlete will speed up from the 1100m mark and run this 200m fast. They’ll speed up on the homestretch, likely passing an athlete or two to get into a good position going into the bell lap. You likely don’t want them running on the inside of lane one on the last lap, unless they’re leading, and, not having to run too wide on the first curve of the bell lap is important, too. Also, it’s probably obvious that your athletes will catch their competitors off guard when they make a move here.
Now they’ve got 300m to go. They’ll run the backstretch and the second curve faster. Again, they’ll have plenty of room to move on the backstretch. Other athletes will want to make a move here but will wait until 200m to go. With the track workouts I can teach you, your athletes will have replicated speeding up with 300m to go in workouts that they’ll be ready to speed up here.
The fastest 100m of the race must be the last 100m of the race.
...that’s worth re-reading...
Again, your athletes will have practiced this before the race – running race pace, running fast, then running faster, then running “fastest” in this final 100m. They’ll be able to envision themselves doing this in the days going into races because they will have done this in practice.
That’s it! But like so many things in life, going “Fast, Faster, Fastest” in the last 500m of a 1600m race is easier said than done.
This means that a coach must create track workouts where the athlete practices “switching gears” - i.e., changing paces – in the middle of repetitions.
1600m Workouts: Running 300s or 600s to Practice Switching Gears
When I say “switching gears” I’m simply talking about speeding up. Athletes typically like this phrasing, but you can use something else. The key is that they understand that they must speed up three times to have the best race possible.
A simple way to practice switching gears is with 300m repeats. The athlete will run race pace for 100m, then speed up for 100m, then run fast for 100m. What I like about this is that they not only get the neuromuscular stimulus of running faster each 100m, but they start to see themselves running faster on the second curve, and running their fastest on the homestretch, which they’ll need to do in the race.
“But they only switch gears twice.” You’re right!
That’s why you should also consider doing a 600m repetition.
You can assign a 600m repeat starting at the 200m start line. The athlete will run 300m at race pace, then “Fast, Faster, Fastest” for 100m-100m-100m. This is a longer repetition so you’ll have to give them more recovery time than you would between 300m repetitions.
In the Track Training System I have track workouts coaches can use with their athletes to help them learn how to change gears.
The key take home point is that a coach can’t expect an athlete to do something in the race that they haven’t done in practice.
Here’s How This Helps with the “Third Lap Problem”
Most high school 1600m runners will run races with the following splits.
The fastest lap will be the last lap – we want that. The next fastest lap will be the first lap because they’re getting into a good position on that lap. Ideally, we’d want the second and third laps to be similar – not as fast as the last lap, but not dramatically different than the first lap.
What typically happens is that the third lap is much slower than the other three.
The good news is if we can fix this they race faster - they'll race to their potential/fitness level.
Making a Move with 500m To Go
When the athlete makes their move with 500m to go, two things happen within the third lap.
1. The athlete is speeding up with 500m to go – so the last 100m of the third lap is fast. This obviously speeds up the third lap.
2. Prior to making this move the athlete is going to “get ready” at the 200m mark of the third lap. They’ll be mentally engaged running the second curve of the first lap. Again, this will lead to a faster third lap.
This move not only speeds up the third lap, but it sets up the athlete to pass people in the final 500m of the race.
The final point you’ll want to make with your athletes is that one simple word will help them execute this plan.
Quick story: I had a teammate in college that would yell this during the final lap of the race. It's so simple, and so important, and for me, I think it worked. As you know, kids are often too focused on time goals, yet if they are focused on competing and beating the people in front of them, they’ll race faster.
We don’t want the athlete thinking at the end of a 1600m race – we want them making moves and covering moves. But if they need a word to focus on to help them run down other athletes, or hold off an athlete, “Compete!” is a great word.
Here Are My Best Track Workouts
If you really want to take your program to the next level, you owe it to yourself to check out the Track Training System. There are sample videos, plus testimonials from coaches who have transformed their program with the system.
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