400- and 800-Meter Workouts


The 400 meters is track's longest standard sprint event; the 800 meters is its shortest middle-distance contest. Without the jets of a true sprinter, success in the 400 is impossible, while a lack of endurance will squash the ambitions of any 800-meter specialist. Some athletes -- notably Cuba's Alberto Juantorena, the double gold medalist in the 400- and 800-meter races in the 1976 Olympics -- have managed to achieve supremacy in both events. Key workouts can point you in the same direction.

Basic 400-Meter Training

  • Clyde Hart, the legendary former Baylor University coach who has guided multiple 400-meter runners to Olympic gold, stresses that the 400 meters demands a blend of speed and endurance. For speed development, do workouts of 10 times 100 meters, six times 150 meters and five times 200 meters. For endurance, perform 15 to 30 minutes of continuous, variable-pace running; alternate these runs with workouts consisting of six 800-meter repeats on a cross-country course with three minutes of rest between reps. Do your endurance-oriented workouts in the preseason, then transition to sprint-heavy work as you enter the competitive season.

Basic 800-Meter Training

  • Steve Gardiner, a high school coach in Massachusetts, stresses that 800-meter runners can come at the event from either the sprint side or the distance side. In other words, mile runners can move down or 400-meter sprinters can move up. As an event that's about two-thirds anaerobic and one-third aerobic, it demands ample distance work to supplement the fast, short track reps that complete your reservoir of strength. Gardiner recommends doing reps of 300 to 600 meters in the early part of the season -- covering 2,400 to 3,200 meters in all -- with the intensity being about 90 percent of your maximum pace. In mid season, races themselves serve to bolster your fitness. You should run shorter, faster reps in workouts as a means of increasing speed.

Sharpening for the 400 Meters

  • As you get closer to whatever your goal race is, you should mix up what you do competitively so as to become a well-rounded racer. Run a couple of 200s in less important meets to work on your speed, and consider racing an 800 so as to increase your tolerance for lactic-acid buildup toward the end of a race. Eliminate easy-distance runs and cut your running volume to allow your legs to become "springy" in anticipation of peak performance.

Sharpening for the 800 Meters

  • The principles here differ little from those you apply to peak for a 400-meter race. Run one or two mile races in the last three to four weeks preceding the 800-meter race that's most important to you, and also run a couple of 400-meter races, and possibly even a 200-meter race, to improve your speed and your finishing "kick" in the 800. Reduce your overall training mileage by one-third if you're a more experienced competitor and by one-half if you're within your first year or two of running the 800 meters competitively.

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