The 800-meter run -- about 4.6 meters shy of a half-mile -- is one of track and field's middle-distance events. It requires a unique blend of pure speed and endurance. Unlike a 100-meter-dash specialist, whose training need not encompass aerobic work, and a marathoner, whose focus doesn't demand sprinting excellence, successful 800-meter-runners must do a little of everything in preparation for their peak meet while carefully honing their strategy.
Facts and Physiology
At the close of 2013, the men's and women's world records for the 800 meters -- two laps of a standard outdoor track and four circuits indoors -- stood at 1:40.92 and 1:53.28, respectively. For most mortals with some competitive experience, the race consists of between two and three minutes of roughly 60 to 70 percent aerobic activity. According to Brian MacKenzie, longtime coach for UK Athletics -- the United Kingdom's national governing body for track and field sports -- dividing your training into specific phases is a critical part of preparation for not only the 800 but for other events as well.
Building Strength and Endurance
MacKenzie advocates alternating three weeks of intense training with a week of reduced training and continuing this cycle until you reach peak fitness for a given season or stage of development. He also stresses the importance of individualized training programs for different athletes. In the early season or pre-competitive season, try alternating three days of weight training with three days of aerobic running at moderate to high intensity for up to one hour. Do daily flexibility and core-conditioning exercises such as dynamic stretching to improve overall strength and power.
Specialized Speed Training
While endurance is critical for a half-miler, training at and just above race pace is what really gets you prepared to give your best. In one speed session, do three or four sprints up to 300 meters long at about 5 percent faster than goal pace and take five to 10 minutes of rest in between. In the next session, run three or four repetitions up to 600 meters long at goal race pace, with two to three minutes of rest. Finally. do a workout of three or four repetitions of up to 1,200 meters at 5 percent slower than race pace with 30- to 90-second recoveries in between. Do not include sessions of this type on consecutive days.
800-Meter Race Strategy
The 800-meter run is a controlled sprint. While you don't run it flat-out like a 400-meter race, you never truly relax. The 800 is the shortest outdoor event not run entirely in lanes, so you must be careful to avoid being "boxed in" -- pinned to the inside of the first lane and unable to pass anyone. Get out quickly around the first turn to establish position and then try to settle into a smooth, steady rhythm. Your first lap in a well-executed race is likely to be slightly faster than the second, as your goal in the last 200 meters or so is usually not so much to "kick" and increase the pace as to maintain and not tie up in a flood of lactic acid.