An Event of Intensity: 800m Training

Although I would have preferred to include 800m-1500m discussion in Run Faster, there wasn’t a market for it at the time. The following may prove to be useful for those who are interested in learning more about it.

If you have spent any time reviewing elite program training in the 800m, chances are you’ve seen a wide array of techniques and systems. I believe Coach Robert Chapman from Indiana Elite and ex. phys. professor refers to it as pure ‘voodoo’. What he is saying is that it is very difficult to use general terms from a scientific standpoint. I agree with that assumption in all regards to training elite athletes.

snell31 300x217 An Event of Intensity: 800m Training

In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Peter Snell achieved the famed 800m/1500m Olympic Gold double.

We are all individual experiments of one. With that being said, the 800m is one of the most extreme events you can focus on. Being off by the tiniest of margins can make the utmost importance in fading or powering down the home stretch. It requires constant tinkering to find the right formula on an athlete by athlete basis. (Speed vs. Strength)

When Peter Snell won gold in 1960 and 1964, it tested many traditional approaches to training for the 400m and events above. We began to see programs incorporate longer endurance work in all phases of event specific training.

When training an 800m runner, one must look at what type of runner they are.

  • Are they a resistant type 800m runner (excelling in 800m/1500m)? Not the fastest in terms of pure speed, but instead, very strong. (Steve Cram, Steve Ovett, Peter Snell, Alan Webb, Suzy Hamilton, etc.)
  • Are they built with great speed (more of a 400m/800m runner) yet lack endurance. (Billy Konchellah, Yuriy Borzakovskiy, Alberto Juanterina, Earl Jones, Maggie Vessey, etc.)

The first group listed would do higher volume training similar to 1500m/5k runners most of the year. The second would focus on lower volumes of running. In fact, you might find the speed group becoming sluggish from general running.

The Balance

Here is where you need to find that balance of speed and endurance. You have to always be aware of how your athletes are aerobically when they run low mileage/taper. The speed group would tend to lose that quickly and the endurance group would still have enough intensity to run closer to their 400m PR on average.

We can use the philosophy of all running events in realizing the 800m run is an event of intensity, where the marathon is an event of volume. Meaning you need to have enough intensity to be great in the 800m and you would likewise need enough volume for the marathon to be great. World-class athletes all over the world have used that rationale in becoming great.

How much of those performances is the art of coaching?

Do you have them train like a long sprinter or a fast distance runner? Regardless of that important decision, the athlete will need ability from in the 400m through 1500m. Success will vary at each, but the connection between all is vital.

Racing Season Key’s

If you’re a 400m runner moving up to race the 1500m, you want to keep your endurance/volume mix steady, while not destroying your natural speed and anaerobic power that keeps you close in the 400m. If you’re a 1500m runner moving down, you also want to keep your mix steady while not losing your running economy or lactic tolerance that keeps you close in the 1500m.

First, decide who you are. Are you better built with speed for the 400m?

  • Coming from larger % of plyo’s, weights, technique, intermittent aerobic work ( short rest / faster velocities), and cross training.

Or are you built with the strength and endurance of a 1500m runner?

  • Coming from larger % of volume running, hills, long intervals and tempo’s.

These two types of runners are usually very different both physiologically and psychologically,

Specific endurance for the 800m can be the same overall, but vary in pure volume and % of training. There are higher volume (90-100miles/wk.) 800m and lower volume (10-12miles/wk.) elite athletes who specialize in the 800m.


I don’t favor long blocks of low resistance training nor do I believe in low mileage periods where quality or sharpening is emphasized. Granted there are always rare exceptions, the philosophy we use is that of continuity, gradualness, and high modulation.

If you’re a 1:43-1:44 athlete, you never let all your qualities go. You should always have the ability to run 1:47-1:48 in any period. That does not mean you need constant races, but instead, keep your ship pointed in the right direction to reach your goal while becoming better all-around.

I am a true believer in Renato Canova. I believe he once said, “We need more modulation between speed endurance and quality/extension in order to create a base for exalting the personal qualities.” Training adds to your fitness, it does not replace it. You can build your aerobic qualities with your speed.

steve cram 300x300 An Event of Intensity: 800m Training

Steve Cram one of the world's dominant middle distance runners during the 1980s. Nicknamed "The Jarrow Arrow", Cram set world records in the 1500 metres, 2000 metres and the mile during a 19-day period in the summer of 1985.

So here it is you need a balance of speed and endurance and you need to always be aware where your athletes are aerobicly when they run low mileage or taper. Especially the speed guys who tend to lose that quickly and with the endurance guys trying to keeping enough intensity to stay in the game as they need to run much closer to their 400m p.r. as an average.

We use the philosophy of all running events — realizing the 800m is an event of intensity like the marathon is an event of volume. Meaning, you need to have intensity to be great in the 800m and you need volume to be great in the marathon. This is based upon how everyone in the world has trained to perform at a world class level in these events.

Our Systems

For the systems we use each are based with aerobic support and don’t fall under one energy system.

(From least specific to most)

  • Long run fast mix, 30min. easy to mod.+15 x 60sec. fast/ 60sec. slow +10min. mod.+20min. fast
  • 2mmol Marathon paced runs 20-80min.
  • 4mmol threshold training 3-4x 3km/1km, 3-4 x 2mile/ 2:00, 2 x 15/60, 5-6 x 1600m/ 60sec. rec., 2 x 4miles, 10km progression, 5-7 x 6:00/ 2:00,
  • 8min./6min/4min./2min./1min. 2:00 rec.
  • 20-45min fast climbs,
  • Power endurance Fartlek long intervals 10km type feel, 5km-10km spec., 2-4min hills, 3km-5km, vvo2 work, yasso 800m’s, mile-1500m spec.
  • Specific support paced work 150-200m’s with short rest closer to race pace.

All of those will improve your aerobic system and can be considered threshold, depending on what your event is and what you need.

Points to remember

  • Bring crisis to the body.
  • Build two bases (muscular & metabolic) – both are needed to run well.

Feel free to experiment as you train athletes to achieve this balance. During a racing season, we’ll try to build to a race pace endurance of 95-105%. Unfortunately, these don’t always go as planned due to sickness, injury, or recovery/absorption of training.

To me, it’s much more important to not live by a strict set of rules on periodization. Leave this last period open for things that need work to help aid an athlete in running well. If they have been hurt, why not use aerobic work?

There are all only based upon three systems. Alactic, anaerobic, and aerobic. The key is how you blend this trio with individual athletes to achieve best performance.