ARTICLE: Middle-Distance Running

Middle-Distance running is traditionally defined as the current metric distances of 800m and 1500m (the metric mile) and the legendary imperial distance "The Mile". The Mile is the only non-metric record to still be displayed on the IAAF website (the 880 yard distance on the other hand has gone to history).

Recently, reading "The Perfect Distance", the book about the rivalry between Steve Ovett and Seb Coe that will now be made into a motion picture, inspired me to learn more about the distances and made me think that in order to develop "speed for a lifetime", it would be worthwhile to do a bit of this type of running. And, obviously, just to try it too.

So, I've signed up for a few of the so-called "Graded Meets", where runners pick their grade (A, B, C, or D) and pay 10 euros to compete for their club (you need to be registered fully with an AAI club to attend these). As all long-distance sloggers, I've been advised to register as "D" first by our head coach at Crusaders Michael McGovern.

The Meets tend to feature either an 800m and a 3000m or a 1500m/Mile (depends) and a 5000m. You can sign up for both if you so fancy. I'm hoping the mile will happen to be on at the Meets that suit my calendar, but if not I'm happy to do both "The 8" and "The 15". Most events take place on Irishtown Stadium (home turf for me) or Morton Stadium, the National Athletics Track in Santry.

I've only ever contested the mile as a time trial on the track, so this Saturday I'm travelling to Carlow to get a taste for it in the 1 Mile Knockbeg Classic Road Race. The pace will be slightly slower on the road, but there'll be more room to maneuver, so in this way its a gentle introduction.

When I read books or listen to Mark Ryan talk about the track at work, its clear that whereas there's no rough ground like in hill running, its still a rough sport: "Use your elbows, because you'll get them back" or "don't run too close to the curve or you could be pushed off the track" are common pieces of advise I get. Another: "When running in lane 1 make sure you run in the middle, not too close to the curve but far enough out that people must go into lane 2 to pass you out".

And this is just the beginning of the tactics needed. The Middle-Distance events are the only endurance events where world records are more often set using a positive split than a negative split lending creedence to the old adage that "these events are won by the runner who slows down the least."

During heavy aerobic conditioning like I'm doing now, you cannot race anywhere near your best in a middle-distance event. The demands on anaerobic tolerance are much higher than even that needed for cross-country races and it has been well-known by coaches that the level of anaerobic tolerance induced in middle-distance runner does make these runners less effective over longer distances (that being said, the world's best middle-distance runner have also traditionally used the high-mileage approach in their build-up, only the final weeks differ between the 800m man and the marathoner).

Its not desirable to turn yourself into a miling machine thus if you are still a long-distance runner (like me), but this doesn't mean its out of the question running a decent 800 or mile. Quite the opposite, the race is an opportunity to showcase just how much strength you can draw from the aerobic power alone, unassisted by any specific anaerobic and sprint training.