Running The Mind

Running The Mind
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Friday, February 29, 2008

800 meters - The toughest race on the track?

The 800 meters can be considered one of, if not the, toughest race on the track. It requires a combination of speed and endurance. If you do not have or develop both, you will not succeed in the event. Someone with 47 second 400 meter speed might not have the strength and/or endurance to cover two laps hard, just as the 4:20 miler might not have the speed required to go into second gear in the last 200 meters.

The 800 meters also seems to be feared and misunderstood. Being considered a middle distance event, many average 400 meter runners will not try the 800 meters out of fear of the distance. This is a shame. There are plenty of 50-52 second 400 meter runners (not fast enough to qualify for State) out there who can run around 1:55-1:57 for the 800 meters (fast enough to qualify for State) with proper training. There are also plenty of 4:40 milers out there who will not go down to the 800 meters because it doesn't have the prestige the mile has.

The final aspect of the 800 meters that makes it so hard is the way it's run. It's not easy to pace two laps on the track. Most runners go out hard and slow down on the second lap with splits looking like 55, 62, or 62, 65 for example. In all honesty it is probably easier to go out slower and negative split the race. This way when you come into the home stretch, you have plenty of energy to go into that second gear. The problem is controlling the impulses to take off and stay with the leaders. Losing touch with the leaders in such a short race is more mentally than physically destructive.


Anonymous said...

You clearly have little experience and historical knowledge of the 800. Every significant 800 run at the world class level has had the first 400 faster than the second. Every world record in the last fifty years the first 200 and 400 are the fastest of the race. If you are going to claim you are a coach and someone with knowledge of the sport at least do some research before you talk about races and how to run them. The 800 is maybe the hardest race to run at a high level. don't make it harder for kids by giving bad advise. You will not be a good 800 runner trying to negative slit. What ever time you run with a negative slit could have been faster by going out faster. With rare exception and I do me rare and I know which races you will be referring to when you cite even splits. But even slit races are not the same as negative splits.The second lap should usually end up about 1 second slower.

Joseph A. Renguso said...

First of all, "anonymous," what I was getting at was that it's easier to split even or negative. I never said it was "the way" to run the race. A lot of high schoolers have way too much of a gap between their splits (58-66). It would be more beneficial to close that gap. You teach this by having the runner start out slower and then work to even and then to the second lap around 1 or so seconds slower. It's a progression, a learning cure.

Please share your knowledge and experience on the blog instead of claiming you know about every significant 800 ever run. This isn't about how to do things my way, it's advice and opinion which you take and use or throw out.

Peter said...


Two significant 800 races with negative splits other than Wottle's Olympic win:

Jim Ryun 1966 53.3/51.6 (yards) world record 880 yeards 1:44.9

Steve Ovett 1980 Olympic win

I agree with you that almost all other significant races are with faster first laps than second laps. I also agree with Coach Renguso that most high school kids would run a faster overall time if they ran closer to even splits than they usually do.

Anonymous said...

Olympic races while of course significant don't count in this discussion of pace because winning and time is the goal.
Too often those races turn into sit and kick affairs

Anonymous said...

So, as a college runner now and into higher performance levels then i was originally inclined to the other anonymous is stupid and clearly has never run the 800. I was a 800 runner in track and won our 1a state championship with a 1:57. my jr year however i couldnt get under a 2:05, how did i beat this? well with a negative split. i use to always have my first lap faster and with that you die in the final 200 and can barley move in the final 100. with a negative split 61,56 you have so much more power to pull through the second lap and the finish at the end can be what determines the outcome. if you have ever seen a close race youll know that the leader of the first lap almost never wins and by being a dumbass anyonomyous and watching videos of these people by all means who are not normal you act like you know so much. but frankly your an idiot have prolly never even ran this race and your telling a man who is trying to help normal people get better at the 800, you know if your all american and are going to be setting world record a faster first lap is understandble but if your human like the rest of the world, youll want to have a negtive split that way youll be able to run a personal record and if your one of the best in your class of competition youll have that edge to follow that front runner and murder them in the stretch of the finsih for the victory and the fastest time of the day

Anonymous said...

Honestly it really depends where the athlete is cardio-wise.. for people who would classify themselves more as sprinters a slower first lap (setting up for a negative split) would seem more ideal, because they could gas very easily, not having the cardio base that distance runners have. That being said i ran a 1:59 just last night, 57:5, 61:5 splits respectively (im not much of an 800 runner.. i do better in longer races) , which was a personal best for me, and that was the fastest i've ever come out for the first four, but because i've done a considerable amount of off season training, and put in the miles i could hold out reasonably well the second lap, and out-kicked my opponent. running your best race just takes some experience competing on the track and learning what your strengths are. just cause it has worked for someone else doesn't mean it's the way you'll get the job done.

Joseph A. Renguso said...

Well said, and congratulations on breaking the 2:00 barrier!

Anonymous said...

My coach told me to go out strong the first lap and slow it down the second.Now I think running out strong the first lap or running out strong the second lap is by personal preference.Now I'm going to have to go with start out strong because if you get to far behind in the 800 you will not succeed in passing anyone on the curve of the second lap.You need to go out strong then pace until the 150 mark then kick it into gear and keep your nice running posture and give it all you got.Also another help full tip is to close your stride up it conserves more power.

Unknown said...

The PRIMARY thing about the 800 is that is a race about positioning. Except for the Mile Relay, it the fastest speed run with out lanes. If you are boxed in for more than 20 meters, you will not win. Over emphasis on split times is not a good idea for a high schooler. The mind set should be 200-400-200...position-pace-kick. If the student athlete is better than average quarter-miler, his first 200 should be fastest. The miler coming down to the 800m (like Ryun or Wottle) should have a very fast final kick. An average runner who is experienced with pack running can beat a better sprinter and a better kicker. My experience: A 1:57 880 ran from the front; I was always the first one to turn three. (A very fast 200m.) A very slow pace middle 400 that forced the sprinters and the distance specialist to bunch up. Finally closing with a "whatever you got left in the tank" sprint in the last 200m. This strategy as my coach told me years later was because I had a maniacal need not to relinquish a lead when the finish tape was in sight. In my opinion splits mean nothing. Train your students to identify their pace, yes; but teach them how stay out of a pack.

Anonymous said...

There have also been many studies of 800m races that were ran at the elite level that were sub-record breaking race (think tactical). Even in these slow tactical races, with very slow (relatively) first laps, the 2nd laps were nearly always still a second or two slower. There is just too much research on this subject that supports running faster 1st laps being the ideal strategy for a fast 800 time.