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800 running

Answered By Jeff Arbogast

Question

You told me about an article called "The Championship HS 800 Run". I havn't found it on YouthRunner, where else could I find it? It was highly recomended by you. Thank you.

Answer

Here you go. Although youth and High School racing of the 800m varies widely in tactics and tactical variances, those who experience the most success at the event always stay within basic parameters governed by two aspects of racing . . . pacing and energy systems used. The 800m event is a blend of pure speed modulated over distance. Done with attention to pacing and energy systems, the event is controlled, tactical, and perfection in combining speed with endurance. Done incorrectly, the event exposes lack of preparation and racing knowledge, inattention to detail, and haphazard understanding of the physiology of the event. Pacing & Energy Systems The length of the 800m makes pacing a critical element to considering race tactics. Any sprint distances beyond 300m tax the body’s ability to clear lactic acid so some degree of control in pacing of the race is mandatory if the athlete plans to finish in the best possible time. As a general rule of thumb (which, like all track ‘rules’, has to be considered with the talents of the individual athlete) is: “To run an optimal time, keep the first and second laps between 1.5 and 3 seconds apart.” It is possible to run quite fast by violating this rule in high school, but the objective is to run the optimal time. To give a rough approximation of goal pacing, realize that the first lap of an 800m should be 110% of your 400m race pace (so a 60 second racer will run 66), and the second lap will be 110% of THAT number (so 66 + 10% more = 72.6). That gives a race time of (approximately) 2:18.6. Now to determine your own personal race pacing . . . a. Determine the potential or goal finishing time using the formula. b. Divide that time in half. c. Subtract 1.5 seconds from the halfway time to get the first lap split. d. Add 1.5 seconds to the halfway time to get the second lap split. This is a beginning point for developing a racing strategy based on pacing. As you get to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the athlete, adjustments are made. After determining a 1st and 2nd lap split for the event, it is possible to break down each 100m of the event in order to chart the progress of the athlete through training and racing. Taking into account an ATP-CP start, going out hard for the first 6-8 seconds and then ‘settling in’ to pacing, the 100, splits for an athlete attempting to run 1:57.00 might look like this: 100m 14.0 (14.0) 500m 14.5 (1:12) 200m 14.5 (28.5) 600m 15.0 (1:27) 300m 14.5 (43.0) 700m 15.0 (1:42) 400m 14.5 (57.5) 800m 15.0 (1:57) This splitting takes into account the general lactic acid buildup and shortening stride length coupled with the decreased turnover as the racing nears the end. Now that the coach has determined the pacing of the event per 100m, the training and racing goals should include running 100m+ increments well within the 14.0 – 15.0 pace even when tired in order to allow the body to ‘accommodate’ to the demands and stresses of racing at this pace (1:57). In other words, if an athlete cannot muster a 14.0 per 100m when tired, more time in training needs to be spent on form during speed work and speed-endurance. Paces faster and slower than this are equally easy to determine, but the coach still will end up with an average velocity per 100m. The athlete will find that there is an almost direct correlation between the effort given at the closing portions of the race and the amount of slowing in the pace. Simply put, if the athlete feels she or he is speeding up at the finish, they are actually just maintaining pace. A feel of finishing while ‘maintaining pace’ usually results in a slowing at the end of a race. This knowledge of 100m pacing will help the coach determine ‘checkpoints’ the athlete should have at various portions of the race as well as visual indicators during workouts of where the athlete should be at different times in the race. Coaches may also evaluate training and racing performances via video if a performance is critiqued 100m by 100m for form or slowing. This evidence is compelling when discussing goals and personal bests. The energy systems in use during a race 800m start with 6-8 seconds of ATP-CP ‘burst’ energy, similar to what would be found in a ‘fight or flight’ response. If the athlete does not use this energy system during the first 6-8 seconds of a race by starting quickly (and therefore getting out of the potential ‘banging’ in the pack) the energy system will be naturally depleted over the next 40-50 seconds. He or she would be wise to burn it up in a useful way as opposed to letting it ‘leak’ out as the body makes a transition to the L.A. (lactic acid) system. Once we get to the L.A. energy system, our ‘comfort zone’ determines the speed at which we can maintain pace. Proper training will continue to push that ‘comfort zone’ back to near race pace (or beyond!). If an athlete is unable to clear lactic acid from the system in training at a rate which allows form maintenance, there is no way they will be able to race at that rate. So, training of the energy systems must mimic or exceed the stresses of the race so the training effect is the ‘accommodation’ of lactic acid and the knowledge by the athlete that this is a normal effect. Consequently, the athlete should feel comfortable during exercise bouts exceeding the velocity required to maintain race pace, and should also be comfortable with exercise duration that exceeds the total time of the race. An athlete loses fear of the event when each of those two goals are met . . . and then the coach blends the two into a race plan. Tactical Variances No two races are the same. Although it is possible to plan a pacing strategy that will give an optimal race effort, the true nature of the race is that successful athletes must race each other with conditions and fellow competitors throwing variables into the mix. Still, it is advisable to give an athlete a basic idea of how a race is to be broken up in order to allow them to feel comfortable that they have a plan they can implement. This allows them a ‘jumping off point’ to adjust effort from depending upon race conditions. A solid beginning strategy would be the idea of the 800m being a ‘three-stage race’, consisting of a starting 200m, a central 400m, and a finishing 200m. Again, this is a rough approximation, but it takes into account the initial ATP-CP start and ‘settling in’ to a power float, a focused middle 400m which takes the competitor’s mind off the distance and keeps the focus beyond the 400m split point, and the final 200m where the athlete hits the ‘critical point’ and must race the way to the finish. Most athletes find that a three-stage race accounts for energy system changes and gives them an ability to hit the ‘critical point’ in a race where they have to decide how they want to finish. For many athletes, that critical point is at or near 600m in high school, but athletes with superior talent may find that they are able to hit the critical point earlier. Advanced competitors may hit their critical point at 400 or 500 meters at which time they shift to a driving finish that is at top sprint speed they know they can maintain. Athletes who are still learning their capabilities and limitations may feel more comfortable with a critical point at 650m. Regardless, the critical point of a race . . . that check point at which racing starts . . . ends the ‘second stage’ of a three stage race. The final stage will be the stretch drive beyond the ‘comfort zone’. It is impossible for an athlete to check a watch for splits during a race 800m, so the coach must provide the information at the relevant place on the track. Many times, that place will be the ‘critical point’ of the event. This can be 550, 600, or 650 meters into a race for a typical high school competitor, but it should be a time the athlete knows quite well. If the athlete comes through the critical point faster than projected, either a breakthrough race will occur or the athlete will reach lactic acid levels slowing them down prior to the finish (and observable through split analysis). If the athlete is slower than projections, they usually have the knowledge they can attempt slightly faster finishing efforts without tying up. A strong, distance based competitor (coming from XC/1500/1600/3200) may feel more comfortable at a critical point at 550m into the race, knowing they can mount a stretch drive using greater levels of speed-endurance. A speed based competitor (coming from a sprint/400) may feel more comfortable at a critical point at 650m or more. In any case, at that point the athlete should be free from competitor obstruction and with a clear path to the finish, focusing on nothing but form maintenance and turnover. That same 1:57.00 competitor would have the following goals and direction during the race: First Stage 100m 14.0 (14.0) (ATP-CP start and then settling in to a smooth ball-of-the-foot ‘power float’.) 200m 14.5 (28.5) (Check 200m split and adjust for conditions. Begin focus for relaxed second stage. Continue power float.) Second Stage 300m 14.5 (43.0) (Continuing to sort out competitors and pre-paring to use home stretch to establish a physical position in the pack that will allow efficient use of the 3rd turn and transition to the third stage.) 400m 14.5 (57.5) (Verbal split check from meet administration and adjustments. Focus on relaxation now is paramount for the next 200m. Ball-of-the-foot minimal ground contact is the feeling you are after. Get through 3rd turn as close to the inside as is possible.) 500m 14.5 (1:12) (Focus is now on avoiding the ‘let-down’ in turn- over due to third stage anticipation. Evaluate field position for final turn.) Third Stage 600m 15.0 (1:27) (Critical point split. Shift to stretch drive by driving arms, particularly in the downstroke and focusing on rapid turnover with the arms leading the legs.) 700m 15.0 (1:42) (Use all of the track coming off the turn as the distance is the same up the straight. Eyes up running ‘tall’ keeping the chest high.) 800m 15.0 (1:57) (Focus on a point 10m beyond the tape and run through the finish completely.) Other tactical varieties can be played off of this basic strategy, but many of these are ‘positional’ races with slower starts and tactical adjustments of the critical zone, i.e. saving an inordinate amount of energy for a highly prolonged stretch drive. In these cases the final times will not reflect the best abilities of any athlete but will emphasize surprise and positional advantages on the track. A great finishing turnover is the best weapon in the arsenal for tactical varieties, so again, training work on turnover and sprint form will be great defense for surging and kicking races. The event should be thought of as a ‘sprint’. Not too many tactical opportunities occur in a ‘sprint’ (think of the 400m), so the faster an athlete decides to run, the less the chances are that positional disadvantage on the track or competitor’s actions will have any bearing on the outcome. Tactical situations regarding competitors also include: a. Avoid passing wide on turns if at all possible, but if necessary, get around and clear (full stride ahead) as quickly as possible. b. Pass with authority. The event is too quick for gamesmanship. If someone is in the way, go around at the earliest opportunity that does not put you at a disadvantage by forcing you off pacing. c. Starting in Lane 1 allows the competitive field to ‘collapse’ into your lane if you do not get out with authority. d. Understand the rules for protecting your position in the field at the start and during the race. Avoid fouling at all costs, but use high arms for balance and protection at the start and do not be afraid to ‘mark’ or check competitors who cut in prematurely with a light touch to the back or side. e. Run your race. 400m or 200m athletes do not worry about what is happening to competitors in other lanes. Your race is the same, just without lanes. Any race effort that depends upon the actions of a competitor puts you in a position of ‘reacting’ instead of ‘acting’. You alone are accountable for your race. f. Train to be able to do battle at the critical point of your race. You must get to that point within your ‘comfort zone’ so you can race to the finish. Your critical point in the race may not be the same mark used by your competitors. g. Composure is key. Full race efforts do not happen very often, so maintain your composure regardless of the actions of your competitors. If you are fouled, startled, or get off your race plan, focus on recovery and stay with the pacing you must have to get your goal. Racing is full of distractions and complications . . . the best competitor is the one who maintains composure in the face of adversity. CONCLUSION The best 800m athletes in high school may or may not be the fastest long sprinters, but they certainly are the ones who consider the race that way. Either distance-based or speed-based athletes may be supremely successful at this event at a high school level. In any case, girls and boys competing at advanced levels in the 800m will be training and adapting to velocities requiring workouts that produce and force clearance of high amounts of lactic acid produced when competitors exceed 90 seconds or more of work. But clearance of lactate levels must be balanced with training requiring turnover (ATP-CP) work as well as speed-endurance efforts which train the physical and mental athlete to exceed the limitations of the race distance. The coach is key to understanding the flexibility of the high school athlete. Training the energy systems in a ‘hard-easy’ format, allowing proper recovery, developing a sense of pacing and race strategy, and emphasizing speed will allow each athlete to develop to their maximum potential. Jeff Arbogast

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