Home Recreation Coaching Race Smart to Finish Strong: From the 800 meters to the 5000 Meters

Race Smart to Finish Strong: From the 800 meters to the 5000 Meters


The distances from 800 meters to 5000 meters are today all considered to be middle distance events.  In some ways race pacing and strategy in these races is closer to that of the 400 meters than to a true distance event such as the 10,000 meters.  It is important for any runner looking at competing over these distances to have a basic understanding of the tactics needed to effectively race at these distances.

Each of these distance events demands a slightly different approach.  This short article is designed to give a runner some basic information about pacing and anaerobic tactics for each of these races.

The 800 Meters
The physical objective for the athlete should be to complete the first 400 meters as close to 93 percent of maximum 400 meter pace as possible.  This depletes  most of the comfort zone of the 800 meter race.  The start of the second lap of the race gets the athlete around the corner to the break-point again. This is where the critical zone of the 800 meters commonly begins. It may be advantageous to make a gradual move here or wait until just before or after the last turn. This will depend on the decision-making of the competitors that are still in contention, and on the runner’s ability or inability to have good quick step turnover over the last 100 meters of the stretch.  The second lap should be at about 89% of maximum 400 meter speed.

1500 meters
Since this race takes twice the time as the 800 meters, there is enough time to correct mistakes if they occur.   At world record pace, 1500 meter runners run 29 meters less per lap than the world record 800 meter pace runners do, making the whole race seem less urgent.  The most important strategy for the first lap is to not get pinned for very long along the inside rail.  The second and third laps should be safely within the comfort zone of the athlete for this race distance.  The last lap of the 1500 meters should be run in the same manner as the last lap of the 800 meters with the critical zone starting about 300 meters out and decisions made at the start and finish of the backstretch or coming off the final curve.  Unlike the 800 meters which has a faster first lap than second, the 1500 meters is characterized by an ever increasing tempo to the finish.

3200 meters and the 5000 meters
Early laps should be as evenly paced as possible. Yet, a runner should maintain a guarded watch for an authentic race surge from a competitor. The body should be positioned off of the outside [right] shoulder of the leader.  The last two laps of the 3200 meters and the last three laps of the 5000 meters are the critical zones of these races. The tempo of the race will increase during this stage leading to the fastest lap of the race being the final lap. The runner must be very careful not to be out of position when a serious break or surge is made. Being pinned along the inside rail is usually not the place to be when one of these breaks occur, as the runner will have to really surge and tax the anaerobic energy system in the process. The final 200 meters will resemble the final 200 meters in the 1500 meters as the runners enter and leave the final turn. It is important at this point to look ahead and not be obstructed by lapped runners as the sprint to the finish occurs.

Dr.  Matthew Buns
Dr. Buns is a former Track & Field All-American in the middle distances and currently serves as a Professor of Human Performance and Assistant Track/Cross Country Coach at Concordia University Chicago.  He has an M.S. in Health, Physical Education and Recreation and a PhD in Kinesiology.

APA Citation Format
Buns, M.  (Jaunuary, 2011).  Race Smart to Finish Strong:  From the 800 Meters to the 1500 Meters.  Sport Digest (blog).  Retrieved from http://www.sportdigest.com.


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