800 meter Training – How Much Mileage should a Half-Miler Run?

This is a continuation of my previous article 400m Sprinter Moving up to the 800 meters

If you are a hard core elite half-miler, you’ve probably researched other coaches like Jack Daniels, Bill Bowerman, Arthur Lydiard, or even Peter Coe, Sebastian Coe’s father and coach.

The big question is: How much mileage should an 800 meter runner run?

You want to build an aerobic base, but at the same time you need speed and acceleration development, speed endurance, lactate tolerance, and most of all, RECOVERY from workouts.  It’s no fun doing a 10x400m workout (with short recovery!) when your legs feel like they are stuck in cement blocks.  Or getting a stress fracture.

The other thing to consider when doing mileage is the speed of the runs and in particular, the long runs.  Tempo or Steady state?  Recovery miles?  Garbage miles to brag write down in your log book to please your coach (or ego)?

As well, too much mileage can be detrimental.  You want to maintain your fast twitch fibers and too much (garbage) slow LSD (long slow distance) miles will make you more of a slow twitch marathoner, which isn’t a bad thing if you want to be a marathoner.  However, the Lydiard camp will probably disagree on this statement as he has proven his training methods to produce world class middle distance runners (the name Peter Snell should ring a bell.. if not, use Google)

Along with speed, how about heart rate, which is really a reflection on intensity, and therefore speed?  Rich folks like my buddy Mike can afford a Garmin GPS and heart rate combo watch.

Back to Basics

It all boils down to 3 factors:

First, look at the Physiology of the event (100-140 seconds) say from a 1:40 to a 2:20 time for 800 meters.   David Rudisha runs 1:42 while a good High School female runs 2:10.

What is the purpose of each workout?  How much recovery is enough between workouts?  It’s like coming up with the right formula for gun powder.  It’s only 3 ingredients in 6 parts: potassium nitrate, sulfur, and carbon.  The chemical structure is 2 KNO3 + S + 3 C.  Once you get the formula down pact, rinse and repeat and have a blast.

You’ve seen this infamous chart before (and the endless variances) in numerous exercise physiology textbooks:

Percent-anaerobic-aerobic-athletics  

Clyde Hart believes the 400m is really 50-50, but we’ll save that discussion for another day.

So the 800 meters needs some aerobic component which can be obtained from quality track workouts with short recovery.

There’s no doubt in my mind you need some speed.  To quote John Smith, “You can’t have a Donkey winning the Kentucky Derby”. 

If your PB for 200m with blocks is 30 seconds, you’ll be hard pressed to break 2:00 for the 800 meters.  No one is that strong (relatively), not even Butch Reynolds.  If your PR is 25 seconds, well, that’s a different matter, and 2:00 is very realistic.  No amount of aerobic training will make you faster.

800 meter training:  The Mileage

I’m a firm believer in keeping my hard workouts hard and my easy workouts easy.  Sounds simple enough.

BUT you can have back to back hard workouts as long as they don’t conflict in energy systems.  For example, you don’t do 2 speed sessions back to back, but you can do a speed session one day, followed the next day with a different type of workout (preferably a low CNS workload, which is already trashed from the speed workout)

The 400m training principles are easy. There are only 2 ways to train a quarter-miler: Short to Long  and Long to Short.  Weight room workouts and circuit training will vary from coach to coach. 

But the 800m has a mixed bag of training methodology, and I’ll cover them later in a series of articles.

Like all annual training plans, your volume (including mileage) will vary depending on the time of the season (GPP phase, pre-competition, competition, etc).

So, How much mileage should an 800 meter runner run?

First, I don’t like to use distance as a 5K for an Elite male is different for a Juvenile (JD) 15 year old female.

I like to base running workouts on time.  20 min runs means 20 minutes.  Simple enough to follow.

Mileage will come in all forms and intensities (see next section below) including track workouts, but don’t be surprised to see 70-80 miles per week in world class elite athletes with doses of 100 mile weeks in the base period.  Developing athletes can see anywhere from 30-50 miles per week. 

But let’s not get hung up on a certain number.  There is no magic number or minimum.  This isn’t a SAT or GMAT exam.

However, there is a one time I like to keep track of mileage and that’s keeping track of your mileage in your running shoes.  Try to get new shoes every 400-500 miles and recycle your old pairs.  The number will vary depending on your weight, running surface, and the type of running shoes.  It helps to have a sponsor with unlimited shoes, no doubt.  The soles may look new but the inside padding will lose its effeteness long before substantial wear on the soles.

Speed or Intensity

In terms of mileage. there’s a lot of jargon out there, but ideally there should be 5 training zones for runs over 10 minutes:

  1. warm up run & post workout recovery run (or “cool down”)
  2. long run
  3. easy run
  4. steady state run
  5. tempo run

Again, these numbers are only guidelines an if your athlete is “dogging it” on the runs, there may be an underlying problem such as injuries, burnout, or simply “over training”.

Warm Up/Cool Down

I’ll use a 2:00 male 800 meter runner in this example.  Athletes of this caliber usually run at a pace of 7:15 to 7:45 min/mile (4:30 – 4:50 min/km) excluding the first 5-8 minutes of the warm-up where it’s simply jogging.

20 minutes is typical for each of these runs, pre and post.  Personally, I don’t care how long the warm-up run is, as long as they are ready to run when the track workout begins.  If they feel they need 20 minutes, so be it.

Long Run

Usually on the weekend.  6:15 – 7:15 pace (3:50 to 4:30 min per km).  I recommend starting out with 30 minutes of trail running for young athletes and build up to 60 minutes throughout their career.  If you have a 6 mile or 10 km loop around a park or lake, then that is an ideal goal to begin with.  Just avoid the roads and keep the surface soft.

As well, I like to keep the social aspect of a team, so having a group is great.  These speeds are slow enough to maintain a conversation and chatter.  But some athletes prefer to do this first thing in the morning so they can get on with their day. 

So a Saturday 9am workout is ideal, followed by a post-workout brunch… of course!

Easy Run

Usually the AM is a solo workout.  You want to get this out of the way as fast as possible to get on with your day, as well as allow as much recovery time before the PM workout.  How many days a week is another story.  6:15 – 6:45 pace (3:50 to 4:10 min per km).  20 minutes is the norm and aiming up to 30 minutes throughout their career for elite runners.  Again, look for a soft surface (i.e. non-concrete or non-asphalt) such as a park, trail or golf course if possible.

I would start off with EITHER an easy run the morning of the hard track  workout (with a nap if possible) OR the day after the hard workout.  2 or 3 morning runs per week plus a long run is plenty.

At airports with long layovers between flights, I’ve seen athletes do easy runs which is great to get the blood flowing and prevent venous pooling from a prolonged sitting position.  I personally like to stretch and do a few planks in-between flights.  I sure get strange looks, though.

Steady Sate and Tempo Runs

I’m not a big fan of steady state runs, at least for 800m runners, as I feel they benefit more for track workouts.  But on odd days when the weather is crap, or have no access to a track, and other reasons (such as travel) beyond your control, then yes, Steady Sate and Tempo Runs are great workouts, at least psychologically.

5:25 to 5:35 for Steady Sate and 5:10 to 5:20 for tempo (3:20 – 3:30 and 3:15 to 3:25 min/km respectively)

Tempo is defined as lactate threshold, and Steady Sate is defined as a pace you can maintain of 30-60 minutes.

Tempo Strides – Not to be confused with Tempo runs

For the “non track days” or easy days, I suggest doing 2000-3000 meters of “tempo running” which is simply strides at about 70-75% of max speed with short recovery on a grass surface.  Some people call these “turnarounds” or “greyhounds”.  Run 100m, slow down, stop, turnaround, then run 100m.  Aim for 2000m so that’s 20x100m or  10x200m or  7x300m.

Adding Up the Mileage

If you add up the mileage using a 7 minute per mile as an average, you can clearly see how 50 miles a week is easy to obtain.  20 minute morning run, 20 min warm-up, 20 min cool down recovery run, 30-60 Saturday long run.  Plus add the quality track workouts with short recovery 3 times a week, and the tempo strides at 75% speed (on grass) the other 2 days a week.  That’s a lot of miles.

As expected, I have purposely left out the the number you should strive for, because the magic number for mileage varies from person to person.

The only number that really matters is the stopwatch after your 800 meters.  The second most important number is your 400m split.

Just keep in mind the basic principles of training and the purpose of the workouts.

To be continued… next up, 800 meter training workouts, and there’s plenty out there.

Comments

  1. Eric says

    This is good stuff. I am looking forward to getting more information about 800m training. I love the race and am coaching some h.s. runners for the race. Who and how do you get in contact with some of the world class coaches you interview? Thanks,Eric

  2. Colin Livingstone says

    Okay, this is a long one with a few paragraphs, but crystalises the logic of speed endurance through stamina and longer conditioning.

    Intelligent mileage is beneficial for 400 and 800 metre runners. Mileage creates the aerobic conditioning, strength and endurance to extend speed…i.e speed endurance.A good half miler should be able to handle longer runs at steady pace over grass or trails, building the strength and endurance to handle power hill repeats, leg speed and tempo work without injury or acidosis. The legendary David Hemery won the Olympic 400 hurdles in 48.1 off winter mileage and cross country work, running 6 miles on grass near 30 minutes.Hemery was essentially a sprinter / hurdler, yet did winter miles to give him the strength endurance to run 6 x 800 in 2 minutes , or 2 x 800 in 1.52, yet he could run 13.4 for 110 hurdles, near 21 over 200, 600 metres in 1.15 and 44.6 in a 400 metre relay ! Obviously, the aim of Hemery’s stamina and strength work was to develop a ‘high octane’ aerobic ability and speed endurance, enabling him to run exceptional anaerobic buffer, leg speed and technique work. I maintain that with a slight change in emphasis, Hemery could have run an 800 metres world record too.

    The British 44.3 400 metre runner, Iwan Thomas, did conditioning and sand dune work as part of his training, like Steve Ovett. Snell ran as far as 23 miles in training, but great results can be obtained with relaxed conditioning runs over grass of 1 hours 30 minutes. In the off season, the runner can comfortably extend this to two hours, raising his aerobic capacity in an invigorating, enjoyable manner…with a hill fartlek session and light leg speed work twice a week( e.g 15 x 70 metre stride outs, which are alactic ).With the superb aerobic conditioning from the long runs, the strength endurance and VO2 work of the fartlek, or the leg speed of the stride-outs, the runner can then move into the more intense work with a highly developed aerobic and cadiovascular system, a powerful musculature and strong, flexible connective tissue.

    David Rudisha is a 1.41 800 runner and a Masai from Kenya. Masai children run for many miles at varying speeds and can sprint, run middle or long distance without any fuss. In his formative years, Rudisha would have run with all the other Massai children, with no thought whether he was a sprinter or distance runner…it was all running…he was a ‘runner’…longer running, faster running, fartlek, surges, sprinting…all fun and all part of the same mix…conditioning. Snell, Ovett and Coe all ran decent mileage in their build ups, from 70 to 120 miles a week. There is no such thing as ‘garbage miles’ if you are properly trained…only ‘over-tired’ miles from running too hard…which could be speedwork in the wrong doses, or long runs run too fast for recovery. Relaxed mileage is good for you and does not harm speed.

    Speedwork in the right doses enhances aerobic capacity and mileage. It is all about the balance, getting the mix of conditioning, recovery, VO2 Max, hills and speed.Africans understand the need for endurance, aerobic power, strength and speed instinctively.

    Snell ran a 1.44.3 800 on grass in 1962, a month after a marathon in training and could run a 47.3 secs 400 metres and 3.54 mile too.Mileage runners like Ovett,Snell or John Walker could run 47 mins for 10 miles and 1.44 800, with workouts like 3 x 400 in 49 secs or 6 x 200 near 22 secs.Try getting a low endurance trained guy doing that…the reason why these guys were world beaters.Lydiard principles are used by Ethiopians, Moroccans and Kenyans according to their seasons and his methods have resulted in dozens of World, Commonwealth and Olympic champions to the present day. His methods are based on building natural endurance, strength, speed endurance and leg speed with common sense. These methods stand the test of time

  3. jon kennedy says

    I have a 13 year old daughter who run’s 800m. Currently running around 2.34, ideally want to get that time down to 2.22 by the end of the season. She’s just come out of the cross country season (long run’s ect) which she hates and has now started the short stuff (200 / 300 /400) ect. Should she still do a long run once a week to keep the stamina up.

    Currently training 4 -5 times a week including circuits /conditioning ect

  4. Patrick O'Flaherty says

    Jimson,

    Do you have a guideline for proper shoes given the type of run for 800m – 3200m runners:

    Racing Spikes

    Racing Flats

    Training Flats

    Thanks!

    Patrick

  5. jonathon harper says

    I don’t see how you get maximum aerobic capacity for an 800m runner without an aerobic conditioning period with plenty of steady state runs. You haven’t analysed what recvent champions have done in this respect either. 800m is still 40% aerobic and I think this aerobic base still has to be developed first before the anaerobic stuff even starts.

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