This article is guest blogged by Shon Grosse, a physical therapist, athletic trainer and performance coach at www.shongrosse.com
First, let me qualify things a little bit before the arguments start:
- 1) The 800 meters should be run in lanes – at least for 500 of those meters.
- 2) It should be run in this fashion at least at some, but certainly not all national and international meets.
- 3) The use of starting blocks should be an option, not a requirement.
As a track and field fan, the 800 meters remains the race on the program most likely to be diagnosed with “multiple personality disorder”-an endurance sprint, as well as the gateway to the middle distances. An event populated with more middle distance runners than long sprinters, at least at the elite level, even though it is romantically referred to at times as the ultimate sprint. It is a race that should allow an athlete to express the best and the ultimate in speed endurance.
What the 800 has become however is a monotonous tactical game, especially at the championship level. For many spectators the 800 is a frustrating race-not fast enough to count as a true endurance sprint, yet too short to allow true middle distance tactics to emerge. For many athletes, being boxed in, dealing with flailing elbows, as well as collusion in the pack do not allow the realization of their true running mechanics to occur from 150 meters through up to 700 meters, all of which can have drastic effects on performance and ultimately outcome.
So what is the solution? Realize that the only way to keep the 800 “honest” is to run the race in lanes, just as all other sprint events are. Let’s clarify a few things below, lest I alienate more athletes, fans and coaches than I already have.
(Editor’s Note: The International 800 meters had a two turn stagger from 1973-76, including the 1974 Commonwealth Games and 1976 Olympic Games. In some states, like Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio & Iowa, the high school 800m still uses the two-turn stagger.)
Run the first 500 meters of an 800 meter race in lanes just as the 4 x 400 meters is run for the first two legs. The athletes can then break for the pole on the second lap, at the “traditional” break line, just 400 meters later than usual.
Running the entire 800 in lanes would be counterproductive. The stagger would be too long, and the race would essentially become a glorified time trial. However, running 500 meters in lanes and then breaking for the pole with 300 meters would add a very interesting flavor to the race. Each runner would be responsible for setting their own pace prior to making a decision about how to handle the penultimate part of the race. The “pack” aspect would also largely be dissected from the race, allowing improved running biomechanics to be utilized by the competitors through the heart of the event.
Additionally, talented athletes who had a prior dim view of the 800 (such as good, if not great 400 meter runners as well as 400 meter hurdlers) could be coaxed to train and compete in such an event without the downside of pack running tactics. A Jeremy Wariner-David Rudisha-Breshawn Jackson showdown, for example, especially with 300 meters to go after the break, would no doubt be scintillating for fans of the sport.
The 800 should be run in this fashion for at least some, but certainly not all national and international meets. This is a no-brainer, as track and field purists (and more than likely many federation big wigs) will balk at such a drastic change initially. However, introducing it as an exhibition race, or making it a marquee event with an above average purse to lure great talent at a larger Diamond League meet or a meet such as the Prefontaine Classic would be ideal. Once competitors get a taste of a cleaner, more honest race and spectators see how the 800 now resembles both a traditional long dash as well as an exciting velodrome cycle sprint, you can bet the event will develop at least a rabid cult following.
The use of starting blocks should be an option and not a requirement. This goes without need of further explanation. Drive phase mechanics will become even less important in a longer race, and energy may be wasted in a block start that could be better utilized in the closing moments in the ultimate test of speed endurance.
That said, if a 400 meter convert wishes to use blocks in an 800, why should we not let them? Psychologically, this may play games with 800-1,500 specialists, as a new type of runner with a different strategy will likely be next to them (right of left) for over a lap. Again, an interesting twist in an event that could use a bit of a facelift.
Hopefully, this topic will make it to other message boards and allow some spirited debate. From my vantage point, however, the 800 meters is one race where a simple rule change as discussed here will inject fan interest, open the door to additional world class competitors, and allow a different kind of excitement in a race that deserves to be the culmination of speed, endurance and mental toughness. Make the 800 what it truly is- an endurance sprint- and help it become realized as such by allowing it to be run in lanes.
About the Author
Shon Grosse is a physical therapist, athletic trainer and performance coach with a private clinic/ studio located in Colmar PA. In addition he is masters’ sprinter and an avid collector of vintage track spikes. You can read more from Shon on his blog at www.shongrosse.com. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.