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There comes a (sad) time when an aging or “not so successful” 400m sprinter decides to move up to the 800m.
Usually it’s the coach who decides this.
Why would you want to move up? For me, anything over 400 meters I take a taxi.
But seriously, there are several factors. The number one reason is they aren’t getting any faster in the 400m. They have stagnated in progression. Most of these coaches train their 400m long to short. And you wonder why their speed or acceleration development hasn’t progressed?
But by using a short to long approach, these same coaches assumes it’s easier to train for speed endurance (and special endurance), and thus the decision to move up to the 800 meters.
It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it?
Considerations before Moving Up
There are hundreds of reasons or considerations on why you may consider moving up to the 800 meters. Here are only a handful:
- current 400m time and desired 800m time (try to compare with standards in your age group, or local competition) If you don’t rank well in the 400m locally, there’s a possibility you won’t run well in the 800m if you look at conversion calculators (more on that later)
- chronological age of the athlete (i.e number of candles on your birthday cake)
- training age of the athlete (i.e. how many years of serious training)
- physical attributes of the athlete (tall, skinny, etc)
- current coach, teammates and support group
- desire for aerobic work
- mental toughness… at 500m they are all going to start kicking for home. Are you ready for it?
Bring out the Calculators
I remember seeing Adam Steele, the 400 meter 2003 NCAA Outdoor champion from the University of Minnesota, move up to the 800m and never materialized.
I’ve seen several theoretical calculators, from the “4 seconds per lap rule” for distance events, “5 seconds per lap rule – or double 400m time plus 10 seconds” and even as high as double 400 meter time plus 12 seconds.
Canada’s Gary Reed is very close to double plus 10 second conversion.
If you use the double 400m plus 12 second rule, you will see a 50 and 1:52 for a 400/800 combo. But I’ve seen guys break 1:50 but never go under 50. And I’ve seen guys break 50 but run 1:55. Or 1:59 in my case.
It’s like asking, which is tougher, 45.55 or 1:45.40? These were the 2009 Berlin WC IAAF “A” standards. The “B” standards are 45.95 and 1:46.60. If you do the math, that’s double 400m time plus 14 seconds! Or 7 seconds per lap.
So you know what you can do with that calculator, right?
Speed is the Key
The bottom line is: You need 400m speed to run a good 800 meters. Period. Don’t argue with me.
Sometimes, you have to ask a 800m runner to run a 4×400 (a relay where you can use 200m, 400m, 400mH and 800m runners). Canada did this in ‘88 with Paul Osland and ‘92 with Freddie Williams.
Once upon a time, Kenya was a contender in the 4×400 meter relay. They won a Silver at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and then a Gold in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Julius Sang also won a bronze in open 400. Where are the sprinters now? (I’ll save that for another post)
Speaking of Kenya, David Rudisha is a good example. He closed his 2009 season with a Sept 09 1:42.01 at Rieti. Then in early 2010, he ran a 45.50 400 meters plus a 1:43.15 in Melbourne, winning by 3.5 sec!
How does 45.50 and 1:42.01 rank?
I took a random sample of a few well known athletes (my favorites… if you have some to add, please comment below)
It’s interesting that the men in 1:41 range “only” had 46 second 400m speed!
UK’s Martyn Rooney – 800m in the air?
Here’s a good modern day example of an elite 400m sprinter moving up to the 800 meters. On the UK side, Martyn Rooney is a good example. He’s also 6 ft 5 in (195cm), the exact same height as Usain Bolt.
Q Why did you take up 400m sprinting?
A I was mainly running 800m when I decided to run the 800/400m double at the county championships. After running 1:51 in the 800m, I ran 47.6 for the 400m and I’ve carried on with the 400s. I thought with my height I’ve got an advantage (over 400m) in that I have a big stride. I may not be as quick as the other guys over the 100m but I think holding your stride is just as important.
Q Which event do you prefer, the 400m or the 800m?
A The 800m is always something I’ve taken a massive interest in. I love watching it. It is the only event I admire more than the 400m. I know how hard it is, how much lactate they must be feeling in their legs. I’ll continue to run the 400m, although maybe in 2010 – in European and Commonwealth year – I might move up to the 800m.
And with that endurance background, it is perhaps no surprise that Rooney’s long-term goal is to step up to the rigours of the 800m.
"The 800m seems a natural way forward for me," says the European junior 400m silver medallist.
I’m not very muscly, I’m 6ft 5in, and you don’t see many 400m runners of my build – but the 800m is perfect.
"I’ve only ran it once this season in 1:52.30 but I think I could break 1:50.00 if I did it again.
"I’ll focus on the 400m for the next couple of years because it’s tough to step up to the 800m.
"But I’m looking forward to it because there are more tactics involved."
Training for the 800 meters
I could write a book on 800 meter training, or setup an entire website with all the variances of 800 meter training. (I’ll save that thought for another day). There are some articles in the 800 meter archives.
But if I had to summarize the secret to 800 meter training, along with speed and acceleration development, it’s here:
Long runs and/or steady state runs, shorter recoveries on intervals, and pace judgment.
And don’t forget some form of weight training and circuit training.
To be continued…