A simplistic summary might state that 400m runners are lacking aerobic capacity, and that 800m runners are lacking speed. But the differences between runners of these two events are much more complicated. In fact, there is also an important cultural difference between 400m and 800m runners – far greater than between participants in any other two sequential events.
The 400m is a sprint event. As such, most of the training for this race is anaerobic work, speed/power development, and technique. It is very rare for 400m runners to include steady runs in their training. The proportion of anaerobic to aerobic requirement for 400m runners is typically about 75%/25%. A runner’s top speed and ability to run relaxed close to his/her top speed is essential for good 400m performance. However, by definition, the 400m runner does not have to maintain that speed very long, so acquiring a great aerobic capacity is not very important for 400m runners. This is the reason why the 800m runners will usually beat the 400m runners in a 600m race.
800m runners also have to work on their speed, in order to run economically and minimize their level of effort during the first lap. But the 800m is a middle distance event. As such, the training for this event should involve a mix of aerobic and anaerobic work. Contrary to 400m runners, 800m runners have to include a lot of steady runs and VO2max sessions in their training, to develop the aerobic side. This is because the ability to reach the 600m point with the lowest level of lactate is key to winning an 800m race. This is what the 800m training should aim to do: Teach the runner’s cells to metabolize lactate. 400m to 800m repeats with short recovery time are a good way to achieve this. On the other hand, all-out sprinting is included only occasionally in 800m training. The proportion of anaerobic to aerobic requirement for 800m runners is typically about 60%/40%.
To illustrate these differences, let’s compare examples of a May training week for a 47-second 400m and for a 1:47 – 1:48 800m runner (not including warm up and cool down).
|Monday:4 x 450 (15 min) (pace: 52 sec 400m)4 x 40 (30 sec) (fast)2 x 200 (30 sec) (pace: 30 sec)
5 x 200 (3 min) (pace: 26 sec)
4 x 40 (30 sec) (fast)
4 x 350 (5 min) (pace: 49 sec)
4 x 150 (walk back) (fast)
2 x 200 (30 sec) (pace: 30 sec)
3 x 200 (30 sec) (pace: 30 sec)
4 x 150 (walk back) (fast)
20-min recovery jog
|Monday:AM – 5k easy jogPM3 X 400 (90sec rest) (pace: 62-64sec)2X(200+200+600) (2min & 15min between sets rest) (pace: 26-27sec 200m)
8-10K easy run
AM – 5k easy run
Plyometric work (30min)
8K steady effort
AM – 5K easy jog
3X200 (90s rest) (pace: 29sec)
3X200 (3min & 5min rest) (27, 25, 23sec pace)
Easy 5K easy jog
You can see right away the greater emphasis of the 400m training on speed and speed endurance; and the greater emphasis of the 800m training on aerobics and special endurance training.