XC Training System

800m Training: Pre-race Day

This article is for coaches of high school 800m runners, yet I’d use the same 800m workout for advanced middle school runners, as well as adult runners. 

We want to do three things in an 800m pre-race day workout. 

1. Get neuromuscularly ready to race 800m the next day. 
2. Get mentally ready to race 800m the next day. 
3. Avoid having any carry-over fatigue from this day to the race. 

You won’t have to worry about the third one if you simply follow the workout. 

Note that this assumes your athletes have 24 hours between the pre-race day workout and the race. There will always be some instances where you’ll do this in the afternoon and then race the following morning. Use your best judgment, and if you want to take some things away from what I’m about to share, to lower the volume of the day, go right ahead 

Here we go! 

Do A Thoughtful and Thorough Dynamic Warm-up 

Your athletes need to do a dynamic warm-up that is specific to racing 800m.  

The warm-up that I ask athletes to do is from Jeff Boelé, a coach to world-class middle distance runners. It’s well thought-out and is something that will take time to learn if you want your 800m runners to race to their potential. It has your athletes moving in all three planes of motion – a key part of any warm-up for running on the track. It also has some low amplitude plyometrics, which are a great way to get the central nervous system ready for 800m pace running. 


The 5- to 10-Minute Run 

Now most programs will go for a 5- to 10-minute run. I have to be honest – I don’t like this. At this point the athlete’s heart rate is elevated and they’re sweating (even on a cold day) as Jeff’s warm-up takes 13 minutes. You can argue that from a central nervous system perspective that jogging for 5-10 minutes is counterproductive.  

But my experience is that both athletes and coaches want there to be some running at this point, before we head back to the track and spike up. A 5-minute or 10-minute run at this point isn’t going to ruin things, and again, many (most?) of your athletes won’t feel comfortable about this day as a whole if they don’t do that. 

More Dynamic Warm-up Drills, then Spike Up 

You want the athletes to go straight from the 5- to 10-minute run into a series of skipping and sprint drills, which they will have done as part of Jeff’s warm-up. Then they’ll spike up. 

It’s worth noting that this is the same thing they’ll do the next day: Jeff’s dynamic warm-up, a 5- to 10-minute run, then back to the track for skipping and sprint drills. But tomorrow they’ll just do a different series of strides to be ready to race fast. 

3 x 150m In-n-Outs 

After they’ve spiked up, they’ll do 3 x 150m In-n-Outs.  

You can share the following with them... 

“An In-n-Out is simple: You’ll build up for 50m, then you run 50m fast, then you 'run out' for 50m.  

We’ll start this at the middle of the second curve, with the first 50m run on the curve.  

Then the middle 50m is at 92 percent of max for the first repetition, then you'll run 94 percent and 96 percent for the second and third repetition. These typically mean 400m PR pace for the first repetition, then a touch faster, then a touch faster.  

But the key is that you run by feel for this middle 50m. You should be saying 'up tall' in your mind, to make sure you’re running with good posture. 

After you’re run the middle 50m, you’ll 'run out' for 50m. This is simple conceptionally, yet many athletes don’t execute this well. You let your momentum carry you down the track for that final 50m.  

Think about it: you just ran really fast. If you don’t 'hit the brakes,' but simply let your momentum carry you down the track, you’ll get to the finish line at about cross country pace, or a bit slower. But at the 60m mark and the 70m mark, you’re still moving fast as a result of running very fast in the previous 50m.” 

If this seems a bit confusing, it’s not – just read this once more and have them do 3 x 150m In-n-Outs. 

Don't let the kids time this, but if you want, you can mark out the 50m mark and time these. We want 400m PR pace at a minimum.  

The cues you use are “up tall” and “fast and relaxed.” 

This is just 50m at a fast pace, and they should both look good and feel good.  

The recovery is a 250m and what’s nice about this for you is that if you stand on the backstretch, you a) get to watch them and see if they look relaxed and b) when they jog by on their recovery you can give them a single cue if one is needed. We never give them two cues – we never want them trying to think about more than one thing when they’re running...and most of the time we just want them thinking “up tall.” 

At this point they’re ready to run faster than 800m PR pace, so they’re ready for the key part of the pre-race day. 


 2 x 200m 

They're going to run 200m twice. The first time they’ll do it from a standing start, and the second time you’ll do it with 20m “run-in.”  

This is not too much work the day before the race – trust me on this.  

Remember, we need them to be neuromuscularly ready for the next day, so we want them to run a touch faster than the race pace they’ll run the next day. And we need them to be mentally prepared for the truth about 800m races: they’re hard and they hurt. 

The first 200m is replicating the first 200m of the race – so they'll run from the common start-finish line to the 200m start. One thing you can do – and I recommend for your older athletes – is to practice running an alley for the first 100m, and then see how well they run the tangent down the backstretch. For young athletes, it makes more sense to just run in lane one. 

Tell them to “run through the line and let your momentum carry you 30m” as this prevents any sort of hamstring issue. 

Ideally, they run the same split that they’ll run the next day. 

“But what if they end up running too fast?”  

You’d rather them be a 1 second or faster than you hope they’ll run the next day than be 1 second slower. If the run the 200m 2-3 seconds too fast, we need to remember that equates to 8-12 seconds faster than your goal 800m pace and that’s much too fast.  

If you think this will be a problem for them, you can do something before this 200m. Have them run a 100m with 20m run-in in lane 1 at the goal pace. Then have them walk 200m, then jog to the start line and do the first 200m.  

But I think the best way to do it is just to have them run the 200m and if they blow it up and run too fast that’s a great teaching movement – you get to explain what you don’t want them to do tomorrow. Plus, they get another 200m in just 5 minutes... 

The recovery is 4-5 minutes of walking and jogging. Make sure they are fully recovered before the next 200m. 

The second 200m is replicating the last 200m of the race. They need to take 20m for a run-in and hit the 200m mark at the pace you'd like them to average for the race the next day. An athlete trying to run just under 2:00 is aiming to run just under 30 seconds; the athlete trying to run just under 2:20 is aiming to run just under 35 seconds.  

They likely won’t be running this pace the next day as their last 200m of an 800m race is typically (and should be?) their slowest of the race. But again, we’d like them to feel fast and we want this 200m to help them feel confident that they can run with good rhythm and good posture in the final 200m. 

They take another 4-5 minutes of walking and jogging, then finish with... 


2 x 120m at 800m PR Rhythm  

Now they run 2 x 120m. The 120m has a 30m acceleration, staring at the middle of the second curve. They’ll run this at 800m PR rhythm. I’m saying rhythm and not pace here on purpose. The goal is for them to feel fast and relaxed and to run with great posture. It makes sense to time these as we want them running just a touch faster than they’ll race at tomorrow, but they shouldn’t be running a pace that is something they’ll never be able to race at this year. 

Use the cues “up tall” and “fast and relaxed” for them. Both are great. 

The recovery between these is a 250m jog, which can be slow if needed, but most of the time the athlete will be fired up and the jog will be faster than what they normally do.  

Post-run Skipping and Mobility 

We’ll finish this day with some skipping and post-run work after they change out of their spikes. They go immediately into this work, which will take 10 minutes. They’ll feel great after doing this. 

While I know some programs might want a 5-10 min jog at this point, the skipping and mobility work is better. But if there are social reasons you need the 800m runners to jog with some of your other athletes, that’s fine. ...but it really isn’t ideal... 

800m Pre-Race Day PDF and Videos 

Here’s the PDF of every exercise, as well as the instructions for the running, that you can download.  

And you’ll want the videos with Jeff’s warm-up, as well as my strength and mobility videos.  

You can get both of those by sharing your email below. 

And even if you’re already on my email list you need to “opt-in” below to get the PDF. 


What Should They Do on Race Day? 

Great question. 

You can get the race day pre-race and post-race documents as part of the Track Training System. The pre-race is different for each event. There is also a post-race and pre-race for kids who are doubling. 

You can click here to watch a video that walks you through the Track Training System – just scroll down the page a bit.  

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