This article is written by Jim Hiserman, author of Developing Distance Runners, and Developing Distance Runners Volume 2, which is released today. Click here to read all articles written by Jim Hiserman.
One of the long-standing debates among track and field coaches, fans and athletes, centers on what might be the “toughest” running event in the sport. Many believe it to be toss-up between the 800m and the 400m Hurdles with the 400m close behind.
Considering all the determinates of performance involved with these events might reveal more commonalities between them than differences. In researching for my “ART OF LONG HURDLING” and “DEVELOPING DISTANCE RUNNERS VOL. I AND VOL. II”, I become aware that successful training for these events was primarily determined by the physical and bio-motor characteristics of the athletes.
Upon further research, I discovered that each event favoured two to three different types of athletes (depending on who is categorizing them). Each category of athletes in these events should be based different training protocols based on their various “physical attributes” determined to be their strengths. In addition to prioritizing the physical abilities of each group, the mixing in of pertinent, lacking bio-motor abilities needed for attaining higher performance levels for each physical type must be part of a thorough training plan.
Through various studies and research in the 400 hurdles and 800m performances of elite athletes, categorization into groups by means of physical and bio-motor abilities allows for determination of training plans to be developed with biases towards the strengths of the specific category while also mixing in training methods that target all points along the Anaerobic Speed Reserve continuum.
Thinking back on the early stages of my coaching career, during my coaching experience at Washington State University (1974-75), I remember the training sessions used by World Class 400 hurdlers Ralph Mann and Boyd Gittens during the Fall and Winter months. Both were elite level 400m hurdlers. Mann was ranked #1 in the 400mH in the early 70’s while also winning Silver in the 1972 Olympics. Gittens was a USA Olympian in 1968.
What amazed me was their ability to run very fast over 600 and 800m in Indoor T&F meets, especially 800’s under 1:50 seconds while training for the 400 hurdles.
Mann and Gittens were both tall, well-muscled athletes and their training included sprint work, speed endurance work and hurdling (reactive strength work) with some aerobic strength endurance work which consisted mainly in running 1mile repeats OVER hurdles (10 hurdles per 400)!
This was clearly in contrast to the Fall and Winter workouts of our 800m specialist at WSU, Dale Scott. Scott was a thinly built athlete whose workouts centered on high volumes of Special Endurance work and aerobic power repetition training with virtually no sprint speed training, elastic, maximum or reactive strength work.
Although Scott set a National HS Record at 880 yd. in high school, which converted to 1:47.9 at 800m, he left WSU with a 1:47.3 800m best. Although Mann and Gittens trained for 400m hurdles, they both ran fairly close to what Scott ran Indoors with mainly 400m (speed endurance and sprint work) training.
I remember thinking Scott had reached his peak in High School, and thought he simply had reached the ceiling of his aerobic ability. It did not occur to me at the time that what his training lacked, in comparison to the training of Mann and Gittens 400h training, was the absence of Maximum Speed development work and pertinent Neuromuscular modes of training, such as sprint mechanics work, elastic and reactive strength work and true Speed Endurance/Special Endurance 400m speed development work.
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