Last Updated on August 14, 2021 by Jimson Lee
Last week, Tom McTaggart wrote Using Critical Zone Training in Developing Versatile Sprinting Potential. This article on Middle Distance Training was presented at the NYSPHSAA Track & Field Coaches’ Clinic – Liverpool, NY on March 23, 2012.
His resume includes:
- Suffern High School (N.Y.) Girls Track Coach 1978 – 2002
- Suffern High School Girls Cross-Country Coach 1980 – 2008
- USATF Level 2 Coach – Sprints & Hurdles; 2 Level 3 Seminars
- 29 girls sub-sixty seconds at 400m in 24 seasons – 15 Boys sub-fifty seconds over 22 seasons
- Olympic Track Official & member of the IAAF Starter’s Panel
Training Middle Distance Runners
Training Middle Distance Runners is without question a challenging, complex, but rewarding part of any Track coach’s duties. The nature of the events is such that the athlete has to bring so many ingredients into their quest for excellence – strength, speed, endurance, tenacity, concentration, toughness, confidence, and the willingness to work on these attributes. It becomes the job of the coach to create a recipe of training that produces performance in the athlete that brings out all of the flavors of those ingredients. That’s no easy task, and just like creating recipes in the kitchen it can be a huge success, or it can fall flat.
Letterman “Top 10”
For the athlete to be successful, the COACH must do 10 things:
- educate themselves on the demands of the events,
- develop an annual or seasonal training plan,
- stick to it as best you can,
- adjust the plan when circumstances warrant an adjustment,
- counsel the athlete in regard to goal setting – daily, short-term & long-term goals,
- seek both physical and psychological feedback from the athlete to monitor the progress of your plan,
- incorporate some variety into your training units to avoid the athlete perceiving “drudgery”,
- develop “benchmark” workouts your can use on a periodic basis to demonstrate progress
- KEEP METICULOUS RECORDS OF TRAINING – for your sake & the athlete’s sake. You may want to compare week2 to week 5, or one year to the next, etc.
- EVALUATE your plan at season’s end. Keep what appears to work & dispose of things that did not
“Middle Distance” Defined
- Almost all the literature defines this as races of 800 meters to 2 miles in distance, including steeplechase races
- For OUR purposes as High School coaches, we are talking realistically about races from 600 meters to 1 mile in distance, including steeplechase races
- Any distance longer than these can be accomplished well by a middle distance trained athlete, but the “ingredients” for the training of “Distance” runners competing at 2 miles and above will be altered somewhat
Energy Systems that are trained
- Anaerobic Alactate Energy System
- Anaerobic Lactate Energy System
- Aerobic Energy System
You will be training your athlete in all three, but how much you train each will depend upon the event(s) you are focusing on for their best performance. The following chart gives you a very general look at ratios of anaerobic vs. aerobic demands of different athletic activities:
Preparing Your Plan
- Prepare a “Periodized” Annual Plan for training your athletes to “peak” at the right time!
- Work backwards from your “peak date”
- Set up your Periods, Phases, Macrocycles, Microcycles, Training Sessions and units by blocking out the time you have
- Plan these carefully & know what emphasis in training is needed & when
- REMEMBER: It is a PLAN! Plans can always be altered to meet unforeseen circumstances
- IF THIS IS ALL “GREEK” TO YOU …
… Buy THIS Book: Peak When It Counts : Periodization for American Track and Field by Will Freeman (now coaching at Grinnell College – D III in Iowa) takes all the complexity out of Training Theory and makes it simple to understand. You could also read Tudor Bompa, but unless you have a Master’s in Exercise Physiology, it’s a really tough read.
When You Plan Training & Workouts, remember:
- One size does not fit all! What works for Jimmy or Judy might kill Matt or Monica!
- Increase workloads on younger athletes gradually, even if they might appear to have the capacity to handle it. (Greany example)
- Get your athletes educated on the differences between sore/achy, “annoying”, and INJURED when it comes to pain they are experiencing.
- Ice/Massage recovery works!! Have your trainer teach your team the basics of this, as well as other injury prevention strategies.
- Have foam rollers and the “Stick” available for self-massage of sore muscles.
- Carefully monitor your injured athletes so that they do no further damage. They may want to “Do or Die for Old Woodchuck High”, but they are no use to you if they are “dead”!
- Adolescents will manage to puke even when a workout is not all that hard.
- Monitoring morning Resting Pulse Rate (RPR) is a smart guide to see if your training plan is too much or your athlete is getting ill.
After some years of experience, what “worked” at Suffern?
- Over time, our coaching staffs began to work together to understand and share each other’s event expertise.
- The kids wanted to be part of a team, so we emphasized that they all had certain responsibilities to the cause of the team’s success.
- Consequently, our “Middle Distance” athletes agreed to a set of mutually understood rules
Suffern High Middle Distance” Runner Rules:
- You will never be “stuck” in one specific middle distance event! You will probably have done all of them by your second season on the team.
- Set realistic goals for every race, for every training session, for every day. When those goals are achieved, create new goals ASAP!
- EVERYONE on the team, regardless of their preferred event (100m to 2 miles) will race full effort at 400 meters during the season!
Testing for Middle Distance Talent
We used the following running tests:
- 40 meters static start
- 200 meters
- 600 meters
- 12 minute run for distance. You could run/walk if you choose. One of our best 800/1500 runners was discovered this way. She would run pretty fast, walk briskly, & start running again. (She almost beat the #2 Cross-Country girl who was a sub-11 3000m runner).
[JIMSON’S NOTE: READ last week’s article on Here are my Critical 12 Tests for 100-400m Sprinters]
How We Trained
- We never had “EASY” days of training; they were just “DIFFERENT”. Using words like “hard” and “easy” can sometimes screw with a kid’s head so much that the objective of the day’s training could be wasted.
- The focus of our training changed with each session – If one day was emphasizing Special Endurance, then the next day we might focus on Continuous Tempo, Extensive Tempo, Lactate Threshold, or Speed, depending on the plan we set up.
- The kids were always given a daily practice goal, even if it was something that was obvious. They need something to focus on every day!
- We used a combination of ideas from Frank Horwill’s 5-Pace System and Dr. Jack Daniels’ Running Formula to frame our workout needs.
- FARTLEK was not a dirty word at our practice! We employed it occasionally in training units, and frequently as part of our warm-ups.
- RUNNING is what we were training for, so we RAN during warm-ups.
- We ran at 4 paces — Slow – Medium – Pace – Fast. It was the athlete’s task to figure this out as time went on. If they were “holding back” or “dogging it”, we told them that immediately.
- JOGGING was forbidden during practice!… UNLESS
- You were cooling down,
- Told to by a coach,
- Doing jog during Interval or Rep recovery times,
- Helping your grandmother finish her workout!
- Static Stretching had to be done BEFORE warm-up and AFTER cooling down (we gave them a home stretching series).
- Benchmark workouts were done 3 X during the season (March, April, May)
- RACE MODELING workouts began early April and happened every 2 weeks
- BEING ABLE TO QUICKLY CHANGE SPEED is an absolutely crucial skill for the Middle Distance runner, so variety of speeds in training is crucial.
Samples of Some “Race Modeling” and “Benchmark” Workouts
|800m Run||1500m/MIle Run||Steeplechase +|
|Race Modelling||Race Modelling||Race Modelling|
|3 X 320m w/ 1 min. rest/jog on target pace, |
2 sets if capable
|3 X 600 m w/ :90 rest/jog, on target pace, |
1 set; work up to 2 by senior year
|3 – 4 X 800m Hurdles|
|1 X 600m – 3 min jog/rest|
3 X 200m – 1 min jog/rest
|2 SETS – 4 X 400 m – on Goal Pace|
:90 jog/rest between each
|4-6 X 400m — 2 min. jog/rest||3 X 1 mile — 5 min jog/rest||3 X 1 mile — 5 min jog/rest|
|3 X1000m — rest = time||3-4 X1000m — rest = time||3-4 X1000m — rest = time|
|12 X 400m — :90 sec. jog/rest||12 X 400m — :90 sec. jog/rest|