There is an interesting set of athletes that tend to excel at the 400-meter AND 800-meter events. These 400/800 athletes are not pure sprinters, nor are they pure distance runners.
These athletes have a unique combination of skills that will challenge any coach to create a successful training program. Here are four goals I believe will help in that endeavor.
Goal #1: Be Bilingual
Understand Sprint Training, Understand Endurance Training
Understanding the different qualities and vocabulary associated with both sprint and endurance concepts is particularly crucial in early-season general preparation training for 400/800 -meter athletes. Early in a yearly training cycle these qualities are often trained “separately.” This means that certain days are devoted to sprint training concepts and certain days are devoted to endurance training concepts.
When coaching the 400/800 events a coach must understand both sprint training, as well as endurance training. A 400/800 coach must understand the training of sprint qualities such as acceleration, maximum velocity, and the many varieties of speed endurance.
It is also critical to understand how to develop the qualities of coordination, power and elastic strength that directly influence improved sprint abilities.
Similarly, the 400/800 coach must understand the training of endurance qualities. These endurance qualities are sometimes expressed with physiological terms such as aerobic threshold, anaerobic threshold and VO2-max.
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The endurance qualities may be expressed in coaching terms such as easy runs, tempo runs, fartlek runs, repetition training or interval training.
Perhaps the simplest process is to understand endurance qualities as they relate to paces commonly associated with race distances such as marathon pace, half marathon pace, 10k pace, 5k pace, 2-mile or 3k pace, mile or 1500-meter pace and 800-meter pace.
RELATED ARTICLE: Categorizing Training Paces for 400/800 Runners
Goal #2: Be Trilingual
Get Creative to Address the Unique Demands of the 400/800-meter Athlete
Once a training plan moves into specific preparation it requires creativity by the coach to combine sprint and endurance concepts within a single workout. While working with the 400/800 meter athlete, a coach will regularly have to design training that doesn’t neatly fit into traditional sprint or traditional distance training methods.
It is not uncommon to train multiple paces or systems within a single session.
For example, it is valid to begin a session with 800-meter repetitions at 10k pace and 200 meters of jogging recovery, followed by 300-meter repetitions at 800-meter pace and 300 meters of jogging recovery, again followed by 150-meter repetitions at 400-meter pace and 250 meters of jogging and walking recovery.
Similarly, a skilled coach could design a session that included a series of twenty seconds of in-place jumps, followed forty seconds later by four sets of fifteen seconds on and fifteen seconds off of a “sprint drill” and concluded with a one-minute fast run with two minutes of rest. Then begin again with a new jump, a new drill and another one-minute fast run.
These are but two examples of what may be labeled “combined theme” training.
Goal #1 asks a coach to learn the rules of sprint and endurance training.
Goal #2 often has a coach breaking some of those rules in order to meet the unique needs of the 400/800-meter athlete.
Coach the Athlete, Not Just the Events
As coaches we must study the principles required to train the 400-meter and 800-meter events. It is critical to understand the events both in isolation and in combination. These events present unique challenges because of the many ingredients and options involved in successful training design.
However, the greater challenge is identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each individual athlete attempting to excel in both the 400 and 800-meter events.
There will be athletes who are more gifted with speed than they are endurance. The coach will be challenged to improve the endurance qualities of an athlete that may not enjoy traditional distance methods.
Conversely there will be athletes who exhibit greater endurance ability than they do sprint ability. The coaches challenge will be challenged to employ methods to address speed, power and coordination which can tend to frustrate an athlete.
In short, a coach must first assess strengths and weaknesses, then devise a plan to maintain strengths while minimizing weaknesses.
Therefore, even if you have a 400/800-meter training group, there may be variety in training activities between different athletes in the same general group.
Understand Positive Split Race Plans and Aim for a 2-second Differential
Both the 400-meter and 800-meter events share a common optimal race plan trait. The fastest times are almost always achieved when the first half of the race is faster than the last half of the race. This is called a positive split.
[VIDEO] How to Run the 400m Race
[VIDEO] How to Run the 800m Race
Conversely, in every event above the 800-meter, the fastest times in history are almost always achieved when the second half of the race is faster than the first. This is called a negative split.
While an athlete is being physically trained using a variety of methods toward a multitude of qualities, they must maximize their race results through an intelligent and disciplined race plan. In both the 400-meter and 800-meter events, a two-second positive split is an excellent race plan.
For 400-meters this means that the first 200-meters is two seconds faster than the last 200-meters.
For the 800-meters this means that the first 400-meters is two seconds faster than the last 400-meters.
However, this is much more easily said than done.
This will take rehearsal in both practice settings and race settings. It will require experimentation and fine tuning by the athlete to attain the proper “awareness and feeling” that coincide with a two-second differential.
It is not uncommon for novice athletes to run too aggressively early in a race that will result in a much larger and undesirable positive split than the two-second goal.
Athletes must acquire the ability to properly distribute effort throughout each race. The feeling and the result may seem paradoxical. That is, the athlete will have the feeling over the second half of the race of constant yet gradual increase in intensity, but the actual result when executed correctly is that of a constant yet gradual decrease in speed.
This result might best be described as a “slow bleed” of velocity.
Coaching athletes who excel at the 400/800-meter events is an exciting challenge.
It challenges a coach to expand their tool box to include all sprint and endurance training tools as well as the unique combinations of those training tools. It challenges a coach to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the each 400/800-meter athlete and devise a plan to address those strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, it challenges a coach to design sessions that can teach the subtle yet critical awareness required to maximize race performances.
If a coach can excel at coaching the 400/800 meter athlete, the coach will have the skills to excel at coaching every other running event as well.
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