Much has been learned about speed and speed development over the last 20 years. Scientists working with coaches and sprinters have done a remarkable job of applying the scientific method to the physiology of speed in humans including biomechanics, muscle recruitment and energy systems.
Many scientific papers with replicable results have been peer-reviewed, published, and have trickled down to coaches. Training theorists working with scientific data have given track coaches an outstanding roadmap for setting up training plans emphasizing speed. In conjunction with the science, speed-related terminology has been standardized so that coaches can communicate in a more effective manner when discussing workout sessions and training units.
The lasting benefit of all of this recent progress in understanding speed is that it applies to all of the event groups in track and field, with the middle distance events front and center in implementing speed development throughout the training macrocycle.
The training sessions now commonly referred to as Special Endurance 1 work are an important part of every 12 day middle distance microcycle. Sprinters, middle distance and true distance runners all have it as part of their training on a scale of emphasis relative to the length of their race distance.
The differences between Special Endurance1 work done by sprinters and distance runners are few (Table 1.), with the most evident being a little greater session volume with distance runners and a little faster workout pace by sprinters because of a longer rest interval.
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Special Endurance 1 work changes for middle distance runners as the four training periods in a macrocycle progress. During the General Preparation Period the Lactate Response Coefficient is undeveloped and VO2 max is at its lowest point of the macrocycle. In simple terms, a middle distance runner is unable to tolerate medium to high levels of lactate without fatiguing, and recovery between the repeats is not very speedy or efficient.
Special Endurance 1 work during the General Preparation Period is on an introductory basis only. The work should be in the characteristic 150-300 meter range and the rest should be on the shorter end of the scale which is not intuitive (Table 2).
During this period heart rate will be high but velocity will be low as the runner endures the workout with rapidly increasing metabolic fatigue. The lower velocity of the runner, because of the shorter rest interval, will keep the chance of injury low. The typical middle distance runner at this time just cannot achieve much force production.
Training modalities obviously change as a middle distance runner transitions into the Specific Preparation Period and this is quite evident in the work that is prescribed as Special Endurance 1 activities. The work distance remains in the same range, but increasing rest intervals lead to greater force production and faster efforts (Table 2). Lactate tolerance is improving, as is aerobic development, which greatly aids recovery during the rest interval.
The Pre-Competitive Period is characterized by high fitness in the athletes and competitions that are quite important but not crucial. Middle distance runners are working at the highest intensity of the season in all of their work including Special Endurance 1 sessions (Table 2).
The rest interval is the most important decision a coach can make during this period of training. The training goal is to bump the blood lactate up as high as possible over the 150-300 meter work distance, and then allow enough partial recovery to bump that lactate up that high again and repeatedly over the total Special Endurance 1 session. The performance on each work repeat should not deteriorate and enough rest has to be built in to maintain that very fast pace with the high lactate levels.
Coaching Resource: Training Model for High School Middle Distance (800-1600)
Most championship meets are held in a small window of time of 18 to 25 days. This is the Competition Period. The training goal is to maintain fitness rather than develop fitness. The races are by far the main focus and the Special Endurance 1 activities need to fit perfectly into the competition schedule. Work done at this time is characterized by low volume and very high intensity (Table 2).
This level of intensity can only occur with near-complete recovery during the rest intervals. Force production is extremely high. There is a very high Lactate Response Coefficient present and VO2 max is at its highest point. Be very careful with athletes and make sure they train but do not strain through these workouts.
Special Endurance 1 training sessions should be done throughout the length of the track season for middle distance runners. The ability to get faster and tolerate higher levels of lactate is crucial to success. Do not wait until the end of the season to run fast.