For 800 meter specialists, fall is the time of the year for extended general preparation activities in 800 meter training, that lead into a shorter period of specific preparation work. In some instances the 800 meter runner is a member of the cross country team. This scenario is more likely to occur in a high school situation then it is on a college team because of the drastic difference in racing distance and related training work between high school and college. Some states have a high school cross country racing distance of 3200 meters for females and this situation lends itself well to stockpiling a team with talented 800 meter runners that can extend out a little bit and close the race fast. However, the standard cross country racing distance of 5K is not appealing to many 800 meter runners. The necessity of the work required to race a distance so deep into the aerobic energy contribution continuum is not their idea of a good time in the fall.
Exercise physiologists have defined VO2 max to be aerobic capacity. This is an individual characteristic for an athlete that is training date dependent. In brief practical terms, this is the pace a runner uses to run 3200 meters to exhaustion. The 800 meters is run at a much faster pace than the 3200 meters to achieve success. In fact, it is run at 120-134% of VO2 max pace. This is quite a percentage range and is reflective of the type of runner that chooses to specialize in the 800 meters, with the low end of the range correlating with the good distance runner moving down in distance, and the high end of the range correlating with the good 400 meter runner moving up in distance. It is somewhat likely the good distance runner moving down to run the 800 meters and do 800 meter training is already in high school cross country and the fall period is a time devoted to that activity. The 400 meter runner moving up in distance most likely is not in cross country and needs a unique training period that addresses the preparation issues that are necessary.
The fall preparation period for the 800 meter specialist should include an emphasis on the following fitness components: aerobic fitness, flexibility, strength development, injury prevention, hilly long runs, mileage buildup, development of good patterns of nutrition and sleep cycles, and the development of innately driven pace knowledge for the individual.
The 800 meter race, like all distance races is a combined zone race of aerobic and anaerobic energy system contribution. Because the aerobic system is structurally based and the anaerobic system is bio-chemically based, it takes much longer to invoke changes in the aerobic system. Aerobic fitness gains occur through an increase in aerobic training volume. Any type of continuous running will improve the aerobic fitness to a point, and that is why abbreviated long runs, base-mileage development runs, and shorter tempo runs just above the aerobic threshold are used for aerobic energy system development. To improve VO2 maxwith only this type of training will take a very long time. If your fall preparation period is only 12 weeks in length then more aggressive training components should be added to hasten aerobic capacity development during the fall.
In an attempt to hasten aerobic development, coaches should make use of intensive and extensive intervals during the fall general preparation training period and extensive repletion run training during the abbreviated fall specific preparation period.
Extensive interval work is training designed to develop the high-end aerobic capabilities and VO2 max. Extensive interval training sessions consist of efforts of 800-3200 meters in length. A session can consist of 1-5 runs, with total session volume as high as 8000 meters. The work is done at 92-100% of VO2 max pace. This physiological percentage area is an under-developed sweet-spot between full VO2 max pace and the lactate threshold. The 800 meter specialist adapts effectively to training stimulus in this zone. Recovery between runs is incomplete. Maintaining quality over the entire session might require slight alterations for certain individuals. Using sets and lengthening rest as the work progresses assists in achieving higher volumes.
Intensive interval work is training designed to develop VO2 max and lactate tolerance. Intensive interval training sessions consist of efforts of 200-400 meters in length. A session can consist of 1-4 sets with total session volume as high as 3200 meters. The work is done at 100-120% of VO2 max pace. Recovery between runs is incomplete, but recovery between sets is nearly complete. Intensive interval work can be done at, above or below an athlete’s date race pace. Maintaining quality over the entire session might require slight alterations for certain individuals. Using sets assists in achieving higher volumes.
Extensive repetition run work is training designed to develop high-end aerobic capabilities and VO2 max. Extensive repetition run training sessions consist of efforts of 800-3200 meters in length. A session can consist of 1-3 runs with total session volume as high as 4000 meters. The work is done at 94-103% of VO2 max pace. Recovery between runs is nearly complete and could be close to 20 minutes with some athletes. Extensive repletion run workouts should take place in the specific preparation period, which is the last four weeks of the twelve week fall preparation period.
Use the fall twelve-week training period to build a more structurally efficient aerobic energy system base into your 800 meter runners, and their 800 meter training. They will respond much better to the anaerobic work in the winter and spring with an aerobic system that can withstand the training load and the demands of the race itself.
Scott Christensen is the head track coach at Stillwater Area High School in Oak Park Heights, MN.