Masters of middle distance
Masters of middle distance
By Jack Pennington
In this article I ignore the Kenyan masters of middle distance, who are genetically suited to middle distance, [ because of living at altitude] and also because in general they do not live in our modern society with all our distractions and transportation.
We are familiar with such as Herb Elliott, Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, John Walker and Peter Snell. Especially when they have published books about their training and racing.
For brevity I will concentrate on the two best John Walker and Sebastian Coe.
From 1973 to 1984 John Walker ran ninety one times under four minutes for the mile and was the first under 3minutes 50 seconds. He not only set world records but also won the Olympic 1,500mtrs in 1976.
In his book "John Walker"-1984 he writes his winter endurance training amounted to 60 miles per week-100k-.
[Walker was coached by Arch Jelley -who used a mini -Arthur Lydiard approach.] Likewise Seb Coe in his biography "Running Free" of 1981 writes-page 35-
"In the winter of 1979 prior to my three world records, I ran no more than fifty miles per week-80k-.His father Peter was his coach and adds-"Quantity is no substitute for quality".
On page 36- Seb Coe writes-"The 800\1,500m demands leg speed I do not risk my feet and knees on roads.
Coe won the Olympic 1,500m in 1980 and 1984 and in both those Olympics he placed second in the 800mtrs-He was the world record holder in 800 with 1m41.8s and the 1,500m with 3m 26s.
Herb Elliott voted the greatest of all time as a 1,500m \mile runner -was also a world record holder at the Olympics at 1,500m- writes in his book-"The golden mile"- -Percy Cerutty brought out in me a force which I did not know existed".
Percy Cerutty's creed was -"There is no gain without pain".
Since those early days science has proven that middle distance running is so different to marathon running as to be considered a different sport.
In the marathon the liver stores sufficient energy to last about two hours and then relies on stores of fat, it produces work by combining with oxygen.
In distance running at an even pace there is always plenty of oxygen, at least until close to the finish where it may need middle distance speed.
The waste product of distance running is water and carbon di oxide.
Distance running is totally aerobic. Science has shown that in middle distance at best effort work is produced even though maximum oxygen uptake is about 50% deficient especially in the 800mtr. The work load in the 1,500\\5,000, and 10k reduces with the slower pace and so the oxygen debt reduces in relation to the drop in speed. However in all these distances there is proof that an additional source of energy has been used because the waste product detected in the blood is Lactic acid in addition to the expiration of water and carbon di oxide.
Middle distance running produces a waste product of not only water and carbon di oxide but it also produces lactic acid, Which clearly indicates that there is an additional source of energy used. This is anaerobic training
[You may need a degree in chemistry to understand this process within the muscles?] Sports science has confirmed that all the middle distance runners mentioned, learned to train in such a way as to enhance this process of using this third energy and that distance running does not do so.
However the type of training required, to produce this energy, requires a background of distance running.
Homo Sapiens were born to run, but in our society we need to run to improve our health and to reduce our weight, both of which will improve performance.
However when we no longer improve we can improve further by introducing shorter efforts at a faster pace , and we can also include a weekly session of short sprints up hills, those efforts will make legs stronger and strides longer, because it is part of middle distance training.
[Incidentally when doing experimental training in1964-1970-under the supervision of a Professor of Biology and Zoology,--, I was introduced to sessions of short sprints up Black Mountain.-ref. my book "A Life on the run" 1995]
To get back on track, science tells us that to improve at middle distance we need to reduce distance training and introduce at least three sessions per week of interval training to be run at maximal efforts.
Variety is the spice of life and so grass and bush land should be the training venue. The intervals should start with maximal efforts over about 200mtrs because the first one will not need oxygen and therefore if you jog until recovery is complete the next one will also not need oxygen so that it becomes aerobic training at a faster pace than distance training.
The next stage is to reduce the recovery jogs and to put up with the heavy breathing because it has become anaerobic middle distance training.
This will certainly improve performances over all distances.
If you become serious and ambitious you can now promote yourself to a 300mts interval and gradually introduce 600mts and now and then for a change a 1,200m. The most important intervals are the 600m sessions..
When you have decided to become a middle distance specialist you should still enjoy early morning runs of a half hour or so, and also a weekend run in the forest with other runners. In fact in winter it would be an advantage to compete in crosscountry, [but not on roads] but you must still include sessions of speed work.
When the track season is approaching, one session -on Fridays -would need a stopwatch to time 200m intervals at the pace of the race you wish to compete at. Because if you do not have pace judgement you will find the early pace so easy that you will run too fast. A good idea is to run a 600m or a 1,200m in training as if it were a race and you can rest assured an 800m or 1,500m race will be faster. Sprinters do not use oxygen and they do not like going past 200mts, they improve their speed by becoming stronger. Marathon runners are the weakest of all, they carry the least weight. Speed is leg speed and strength.
The bible of running is "The Lore of running" by Tim Noakes MD who is the Professor of Sports Science at the University of Cape Town-913 pages published by The Oxford University press.-Noakes is also a distance runner. I reviewed his book in 2005. The experimental training I did at ANU was published in "The biology of effort" by 'The National Symposium of fitness and recreation' by ANU and National Fitness March 1969.