Sprinters are sometimes flashier, while marathoners are known to be bolder, but when it comes to describing middle-distance runners, a calm, confident combination of flash and guts is what it takes to excel.
The 400 and 800 meters are sometimes forgotten pieces of running conditioning in people's programs, but could be very beneficial in many ways. While marathon training requires a lot of endurance and sprinting requires a lot of anaerobic power, running those middle distances requires a combination of strength and endurance.
Isaiah Harris, a member of Team USA in the men's 800 meters after finishing fourth in last year's Olympic trials. In March, Harris finished seventh at the World Indoor Championships, missing a medal by half a second.
t only must a middle distance run at a sprint-like pace, they must also maintain it for several laps, which requires excellent physical condition.
"I might be biased, but some things middle-distance runners have to do are fun," says Harris. “For me, longer runs get a little boring and monotonous, so you need to change it. I love going out on track and being a little faster.”
Isaiah Harris, now a Brooks Beasts running member, explains that middle-distance running is a running-related activity that anyone at any level can incorporate into their own fitness routine to add an extra layer of strength and conditioning.
Courtesy of Brooks
A combination of fast sprints and long distances
I would say middle distance runners are somewhere between sprinters and marathon runners and we are all different types. Some are geared more for distance and others for speed, so some days you'll need to train as a sprinter and others as a long-distance runner. The 800 is one of those fun events where there are multiple ways to train.
I'm right in the middle because I have enough speed — I ran the 4×400 in college at Penn State — and I also hit the four-minute mile mark last year, which I'm pretty proud of. So I have some strength and aerobic fitness for my game.
Isaiah Harris' Middle Distance Running Workout for Beginners
A workout I used to do on the track was 10 300m runs, which is tough but can always be modified for anyone. It's also a way to stay in shape because your heart rate will increase there as you run faster, but it's fun.
The good thing about middle-distance running is that you can rest a little longer between intervals. Between sprints we took about 90 seconds to two minutes of rest. And when you do 10, break it up into two separate sets of five, resting for about five to eight minutes in between, and then get back to the rest.
You could even do 200-meter reps in the same style. Maybe once or twice a week, and supplement it with longer runs on those days.
Courtesy of Brooks
Expect it to hurt
One misconception about the 400 or 800 meters is that as professional runners, people expect us to be able to do those things and not get tired. It's not - running still works, every time. I like to think that once you get fitter and used to running, you can manage the pain better.
For example, a recent temp run was three miles, my coach wanted us to average just 5:20 or faster. We finished the six-minute break and then took a 228-second break so we could get our heart rates higher than we were during the tempo run, but not push too hard.
I hurt on my last tempo run. But again, it just becomes a mental game. And it's 50-50 physically and mentally, so you have to be strong mentally. In fact, if you increase in distance, like you see in marathon runners, I would argue that at that level it could be 60% mental and 40% physical. Again, the more you run, the easier it will feel. You'll get fitter, but it will never feel pain-free.
As a middle-distance runner against the wall
The final quarter of an 800-meter dash is the crucial point in the race. Then everyone is in, so at 600 meters you need to find enough strength and mental toughness to find another gear and make it to the finish line. You could ask any 800m sprinter and they will say it starts to hurt at 600m. Sometimes you just close your eyes and focus on whatever you can to get you there.
You definitely have to keep your pace for the first 400-600 meters, but it's not like you're just chilling and feeling good - you still have to push yourself to get to that point. In practice, when you hit the wall, you are touching this line. You shouldn't do it too often because it can lead to injury. But there are definitely days when we go to the well and that just simulates the racing effort, although in practice it's difficult at times. There's nothing like just going out and racing and I think a lot of people race to get in shape.
Courtesy of Brooks
Isaiah Harris increases the weight for more speed
We train twice a week on the same days that we hit the track. So on Tuesdays and Fridays it is always immediately after we have finished a training session. So in middle-distance running, we're never really going to max it out or, you know, put on heavy weight -- it's the emphasis on speed in everything we do. Speed and form really the two most important things I would say or why we use the weight room is one to strengthen those fast twitch muscle fibers and then just strengthen those muscles that help you stay healthy.
Recovery routine by Isaiah Harris
If you don't recover well, you won't be able to hit hard the next day and you want to have a good day. I like frequent massages. We have a team athletics coach who is present at every single workout before and after, if you need anything she's there. So if I'm really sore, I'm happy to have her do some soft tissue work, do some mobility with her and do some stretching, some cupping. And then I use the rmaTec boots all day long, they are crucial. I even like Epsom salt baths, foam rollers, and using the massage gun.
But every day is not the same. If I'm feeling particularly sore and could devote a little more time, I'd say I probably do at least 30 minutes of roller stretching right after a workout. And then usually sometime during the night when I take an Epsom salt bath, that's 20 to 30 minutes, and then probably a half hour roll out as well.
Tips from Isaiah Harris for finding the right shoes
Every athlete is different and everyone needs a different shoe. I'm pretty basic - I like the neutral shoes so Brooks Ghosts and Glycerins are my two favorite training shoes. I lean more towards glycerine because they are a bit more comfortable and have more cushioning which I need as I'm a bigger runner - I'm 180lbs. So those longer runs can take a toll on my body and I really like having that extra cushion, it kinda helps my feet and my legs feel good.
I know a lot more people pay attention to heel cracks and things like that. But to be honest, I go by feel. I don't think I have a picky foot, if that's even a term.