Middle Distance Methods: From 400m to 1500m
BY CHARLIE WAKEFIELD
It's now April, soon to be May… it's been a long winter, but you made it this far, and you're gearing up to get racing on the track in the outdoor season!
This article aims to detail a step-by-step guide on how to race the major flat "middle distance" events in the form of the 400m, 800m, 1500m and 3000m where I hope to cover the key stages of each race and how to give yourself the best chance of running a PB or winning the race. Perhaps you're a 1500m runner looking to get a sharper 400m race but haven't run that distance before, or you're usually an 800m runner going up to the 1500m for some extra strength. Regardless of your level or racing experience, this article is for you if you're a middle-distance runner!
HOW TO RUN THE 400M
WITH GB SPRINTER AND EUROPEAN CHAMPION BEN SNAITH
As more of an 800/1500m runner, I asked for the expertise of a great friend of mine and training partner, Ben Snaith, to send me his top tips on running the 400m. With multiple national and international titles to his name and a European U23 title for Great Britain, few people are more qualified to delve into what is often considered the most challenging event on the track than Ben! Here's what he had to say:
Get out hard and fast, up to speed as quickly as possible as if you're running a 200m over the first 50m, before settling into a rhythm of maintaining your speed as you hit the bend into the back straight.
SECOND 100M/BACK STRAIGHT
Try to get into the relaxed rhythm of maintaining your speed whilst conserving your energy – don't slow by, don't push it flat out down the back straight and try to open up that stride. The trick is to try to run fast but stay relaxed and maintain your form without really pushing it hard.
THIRD 100M/LAST BEND
Some people like to have a breather around the final bend, but ideally, it's holding the pace ready to come off onto the last straight. As you come past 250m, you should try to push it to slingshot off the bend as you will inevitably start to in the last 100m, so the third 100m is crucial in building up momentum going into the final straight.
FOURTH 100M/HOME STRAIGHT
As you slingshot off the bend, focus on pumping your arms, and lifting your knees, almost like you're exaggerating your technique because, at this stage in the race, the lactic will kick in big time. The legs will be dropping, so you need to exaggerate the movement and push hard – everyone will be slowing, particularly in the last 50m, so typically, runners who slow the least at this point tend to do well.
TOP TIP FOR 400M RACE
If you go off too hard, then you will be suffering and slowing a lot earlier on: go off too slow, and you'll have left it too late, which will be challenging to make up for later in the race and pick it up again. This is one of the reasons why the 400m is considered the most challenging event as it is the most difficult to pace, and if you get it wrong, it can go very wrong very quickly – learning to pace this race is a skill but one that will pay off as you take time off your PB's!
Massive thanks to Ben for helping me with this piece, and please do check him out on Instagram @bensnaith25 as he looks to continue his great form indoors to win some medals on the track outdoors!
HOW TO RUN THE 800M
MY PB: 1:52.6 (2021)
Whilst I enjoy the 400m, the 800m is more my area in terms of a race I've got some experience in, and whilst I still have a lot to learn, I hope to impart some of my knowledge and some recycled expertise on this distance.
The strategy to run an 800m is often widely debated, and there isn't a clear-cut way to run the race, and this can vary massively with championship and PB-style races. There are so many variables and strategies that can come into play with an 800m. For this explanation, I will focus on how I approach a PB race in a field of similar standard runners where I expect to try to get up in the first few finishers. Essentially, this is my advice for the type of 800m that readers close to London would know as a 'Watford Race' or elsewhere would be a BMC-style race.
You're assuming with this race that everyone on the line is in a similar mindset of 'I want to run a PB today' as opposed to trying to win a tactical heat – this isn't the type of race for a casual sit and kick. Get off in the first 50m as if it's a 400m before settling into a relaxed rhythm as you come to break. You need to put yourself in a position after the first 100m where you can stay out of trouble and get yourself on the rail without being boxed in.
SECOND 100M (BACK STRAIGHT)
Take the shortest line, but this is where you need to make quick decisions about how the race will play out. If you feel the pace is not as fast as you need it to be and the weather conditions are okay, you might find that the best place to be is actually on the front of the pack taking the rail. If the race is quicker than expected, then being at the back of the pack is not necessarily bad, as the key to the 800m is not who can kick the hardest but who can slow down the least in the last lap. The way I like to race the 800m is to try and settle around 3rd or 4th in the pack, meaning I'm still in contention with the leaders, but I'm also in a better position than at the back of the pack to either move up or make decisions based on how the race is playing out.
200M - 500M
Try to stay as relaxed as possible and hold your position within the pack – watch out for the split after the first lap. If it's quick, you can afford to try and hold on, and you don't need to change much until the closing 200-300m. However, if it's slow, then you need to try to move up without finding yourself in lane 3 or 4 on a bend – pick your moment and take it.
500M - 650M
Relax, hold your form and hold on to that pace as best you can whilst watching out for the runners that may start kicking from behind or if someone tries to leave the pack behind. Depending on the pace of the race and how you're feeling, holding on might be your only option, but if you're still feeling strong at this point, you need to do everything you can to move up and put yourself in a fighting chance going into the last 150m.
800M HOME STRAIGHT
I would reiterate Ben's advice for the last 150m of an 800m in that it's similar to the last 150m of a 400m: all you can do is push with everything you've got, hold your form, and despite it being nearly impossible, relaxing, especially your upper body, may make you go quicker. Give it everything you have, and do not leave it too late to kick out – you can swim the last 30-40m off of pure momentum.
TOP TIP FOR 800M
If you can, your best chance of running a PB is running the first lap 1-2 seconds faster than the second one. My PB was even split, which is fine, but it is much harder to speed up in the second lap (negative split) off of a slower first lap and still finish in a PB than a positive split race.
HOW TO RUN THE 1500M
MY PB - 3:53.9 (2021)
The 1500m is a challenging distance, but the good news is that as it's a bit longer, you have more time to think about what you're doing mid-race and make up for most tactical errors. Again, the strategy to run a 1500m is not an exact science with various variables that can come into play. Similarly, with my 800m piece, I will focus on approaching a PB race in a field of similar standard runners, such as a Watford meet or a BMC race.
I would say there are fewer tactics with a 1500m as it primarily focuses on trying to maintain even splits instead of strictly tactical advice. The same advice with trying to hold the inside line and get a tow-rope from the leaders/pacemaker applies, but for the bulk of the race (200m-1100m), it is as simple as maintaining pace, staying relaxed and putting yourself in contention with the leaders in the race.
Get out hard but not crazy fast, just enough to stay out of trouble and assess the race. Some runners, especially in championship racing, will opt to sit at the back of the group at the start and move up after the chaos has settled down, however for the bulk of people, the more straightforward strategy to implement is to put yourself in the middle of the race and work out who's going to take it out from the front. If the race is slow (whilst in an ideal world, you don't want to take it out) and no one wants to set the pace, then it may be down to you to sit on the front again. Ideally, you want to put yourself in a race that has a pacemaker or that is on the quicker side of your current PB.
LAST 400M/BELL LAP
Assuming you're on pace, you have a bit more flexibility to implement a kick in a 1500m than you do in perhaps the 400 or the 800. However, timing that kick is crucial to the success of your race.
This is a lesson I learnt the hard way in the 2021 season, as I lost out on three occasions to a great friend of mine and strong runner, Leo Freeland, by the narrowest of margins because he timed his kick better than me in all three races. I crossed the line, thinking if only I had kicked out slightly earlier, I might just have caught him as I was closing him down towards the line. I ran out of track - and that is the situation you want to avoid. I learnt from Leo that if you kick out slightly earlier in the 1500m than in say a typically 800m sit and kick the last 200m, you can use that burst to get ahead and then hold on to that momentum in the last 50m.
TOP TIP FOR 1500M RACE
Do NOT get to 150m to go and start kicking. Ideally, you want to go just before 250m to push hard around the final bend to fly into the last 100m. In the last 100m, pump the arms, relax the shoulder, grit your teeth whilst trying to slow as little as possible and try and hold on for the line – you ideally shouldn't be speeding up at this stage of the race.
GIVE IT YOUR ALL!
Best of luck racing this outdoor season, and if you have any questions, comments or thoughts, feel free, as always, to reach out to me via Instagram @charlie_wako or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org!
Bring on the summer!
ABOUT CHARLIE WAKEFIELD
Charlie is predominately an 800m/1500m runner, but he also runs 5K and cross country.
As part of our blog team, Charlie will primarily be making content focusing on middle-distance events.
His goals over the next 5 years include achieving an England/GB vest on the track and breaking the 4 minute mile!