800m run training

The 800m run is perhaps the hardest distance to train for. Not just because it is painful, but for other understandable reasons aswell: It lies on the absolute border between being a long sprint and a distance race,  both feet firmly plantet in both the anaerobic and aerobic energy system, the pinnacle of speed, endurance and speed endurance. This is perhaps why runners have succeeded in the 800m with such a big span of different training. I like to use the example of Steve Ovett and Alberto Juantorena, the working class brit and the cuban giant., both Olympic 800m champions, both Olympic medalists in other distances too.

Juantorena in full stride. Picture from http://www.runneruniverse.com/

Juantorena in full stride. Picture from http://www.runneruniverse.com/

Juantorena attacked the 800m from below, interpreting the two-lapped race as a really long sprint. And he trained accordingly,working on his speed all year with lots of fast 50m runs, fast uphill runs, fast 80m runs, slope skipping, gymnasium, weight training, 200m runs and 500m runs for (speed) endurance. In 1976 in Montreal he won a gold medal in the 800m, beating Steve Ovett. He won gold in the 400m sprint in the same games. The only runner ever to do the 400/800m double at the Olympics.


Steve Ovett. Picture from http://www.rankopedia.com/

Steve Ovett. Picture from http://www.rankopedia.com/

Ovett attacked the 800m from above, choosing to look at it as a short distance race, and of course this led his training to be way different from Juantorena’s. During winter, Ovett would run up to 190km per week, most of it from 1 hour runs on the road. His main focus was on developing his aerobic capacity, which he did. He could be competitive in every distance from the 800m to the 5000m, and broke the 1500m and mile world records many times. 4 years after Juantorena’s golds in Montreal, Ovett won the gold medal in the 800m in the Moscow Olympics in a famous clash with another British runner, Sebastian Coe.


I think I’ve made my point. There are multiple ways to train for the 800m, but there are some basics we can talk about.

Basics of 800m training

Close to all successful 800m training systems uses some kind of periodisation, most having a distinct base training period, competition preparation period, competition period, and off-season.

The base training is perhaps the most important period of any training system, because it is the one where most of the training is done. This is basically where you do a lot of training in order to build a big base that your “peak” can stand on top of when the competitions come. If you’re planning to compete during summer, you will typically start base training in the fall with an easy training week, taking a couple of weeks of progressing into your typical full base training week.

Working on your base is in essence just working on almost everything you need to be a fast 800m runner. And as we have already discussed, this can be different for every runner; Juantorena needed to work a lot on his speed and speed endurance, Ovett on his aerobic capacity. However, most 800m runners have a pretty good mix of easy aerobic training, threshold work, intervals at VO2-max intensity, speed work, hill running of different lengths and intensities, strength and weight training or circuit training, plyometrics, and even intervals at race pace. The perfect combination of these ingredients is different for close to every runner, so some experimentation is needed in order to optimise a base training plan. Nevertheless, quantity is an important keyword for this training period.

800m run training

After the base work is done, it is time to transition into the preparation period. In this phase of your training you start to get more and more race specific in order to prepare for the competitions. What typically happens is that the volume of the training goes down in order to up the quality of the workouts. Aerobic training becomes less important (but aerobic capacity should by all means be maintained, so some aerobic training is necessary) while more high quality anaerobic interval workouts at race pace are becoming the key part of training. Anaerobic production training is also introduced. The preparation period is significantly shorter than the base training period, and should last anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks. It might be smart to take a couple of weeks to transition from base training into preparation, gradually decreasing volume and increasing intensity. Quality is the keyword for this training period.

American 800m runner Nick Symmonds talking about his base training.

When you start racing in the competition period, the focus is mainly gonna be on two things: getting well rested and a surplus of energy to race, and maintaining the great shape you’ve built up during base training and preparation period. This means you will cut down even more on the volume, and only keep some key workouts to maintain speed and aerobic capacity, maybe throw in some VO2-max workouts if you respond well to that kind of training. You will work your anaerobic capacity running races so no need to hammer tough anaerobic workouts on weeks where you also compete. Most runners naturally improve their times after getting some races under their belts.

The off season is 2-4 weeks long and happens after all your competitions have been run. The goal here is to not run in order to get well rested and get rid of any injuries or any injuries that may have started developing without “surfacing” yet. After 2-4 weeks you should be ready to start transitioning into base training again.

Now that’s the basics. As always, if you feel like I was unclear about something, don’t hesitate with letting me know by leaving a comment.

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