Methods of Training for the Distance Races

800 METERS, 1600 METERS, 3200 METERS

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    There are many different methods of training for the distance races, each varying in purpose, intensity and duration. The specific demands of racing at distances of 800–3200 meters and your runners’ strengths and weaknesses should determine what you do in training. As a rule, early season training should target areas of weakness and late season training should focus on exploiting your athletes’ racing strengths. Regardless of the methods you use, the key to an effective training program is detailed planning, the judicious
use of rest and recovery, and a gradual increase in training intensity and duration.


    Steady-pace runs are done at a pace which some athletes describe as “comfortably hard.” Long, steady runs should be done at a pace that can be maintained for 40–60 minutes with relative ease. Scientists estimate the ideal intensity for a steady-pace run is a pace equivalent to 70% of the individual runner’s VO2 max (approximately 1 minute per mile slower than 10K race pace). A 40–60 minute continuous run at this level of intensity has been found to be ideal for developing the cardiovascular system, improving the capillarization of muscles, and enhancing the body’s efficient use of its energy sources. Coaches often refer to the long, steady run periods of their training programs as the “base” or “foundation” phases which allow for longer, more intense training later in the program.

    Tempo-pace, or threshold, running is designed to train runners at their lactate threshold, the level of running intensity where lactic acid begins to accumulate rapidly in the blood. Continuous running at tempo-pace usually can be maintained for 20–40 minutes. Theoretically, regular threshold training will enable the runner to maintain a faster race pace with no greater accumulation of lactic acid.
    Threshold training can be either continuous or segmented. Continuous threshold training is usually referred to as tempo running. Tempo runs are typically 20–30 minutes long at a pace about 15–20 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace, with warm-up and warm-down running included before and after the run. The purpose of tempo runs is to train at an intensity level just short of hard-pace running.
    Segmented threshold training is also referred to as tempo reps or tempo intervals. This training consists of a series of shorter runs, usually lasting 90 seconds to 8 minutes, with short recovery intervals of one-minute or less in between. Distances of 600–2000 meters are usually used for tempo reps. A tempo interval workout could last as little as 30–40 minutes, including recovery time.

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    Repeats of 1–5 minutes of fast running have been identified by exercise physiologists as ideal repetition training for distance runners. Regardless of the distance, a good rule of thumb is for the rest time to be twice as long as the run time. Repetition training is designed to increase running efficiency by decreasing the oxygen cost of running and to help the runner become more pace and rhythm conscious. The running intensity used for repetition training should be desired race pace. Repetition training allows the athlete to attain and sustain VO2 max repeatedly. Repetition training enables a runner to train at V02 max for a cumulative time greater than could be sustained in a single race. A total time of 20–25 minutes, not including recovery time, is a good upper limit for a repetition training session.

    Interval training means different things to different people. Most coaches and athletes use “interval training” and “repetition training” interchangeably, but they are vastly different types of training. What is the interval in a workout? The interval is the recovery period between bouts of running. In a repetition training session, the objective is to run specific distances repeatedly at race pace, so the recovery ratio is approximately 1:2 run to recovery. In an interval training session, the objective is to run specific distances repeatedly at a high-lactate blood level, so the recovery ratio is 2:1 run to recovery.
    Interval training should be included more often in the training of 800m and 1600m runners than 3200m runners because those races are 30–50% anaerobic. Research has shown that middle distance runners need to be able to tolerate high levels of lactic acid because it is a byproduct of anaerobic running.
    Research also shows that middle distance runners must be able to produce high levels of lactic acid because it becomes an energy source in the absence of oxygen via the Krebs cycle. The intensity of interval training should be faster than race pace because its purpose is to produce lactic acid by performing the last portion of each run anaerobically. The duration of each run in an interval session is typically 15–90 seconds (100–600m). The recovery ratio should be 1 or 2:1 run to recovery. The idea is not to fully recover, but
to maintain a high level of lactic acid in the blood throughout the workout.

    The purpose of interval training is to enhance the athlete’s ability to produce and tolerate lactic acid during a race. Interval training is intense, demanding, and painful. It should not be included more than once a week in a training plan, and some athletes may require 2–3 days of easy running to recover fully from a hard interval training session.

    “Speed play” is the literal translation of the Swedish word “fartlek.” Speed play is a combination of fast and slow running; that is, a continuous running session which includes bursts of fast running followed by periods of easy running for recovery. Ideally, speed play is done over varied terrain, including hills. The length of the fast bursts and easy recovery
runs is unstructured so that the athlete has a genuine feeling of playing with speed.

    Surging is continuous running similar in design to speed play. But while speed play alternates periods of sprinting and jogging, surging is steady-pace running punctuated with periods of faster running up to threshold pace, well below sprint speed. Typically, a surge in the midst of a steady-pace run would be an increase in pace of 30–60 seconds per mile, depending on the length of the surge.
    The purpose of surging training is to enhance the runner’s ability to initiate and respond to changes in pace and to recover at steady-pace running speeds.


FROM: AAFLA/CIF Coaching Manual

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