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Interval Training: 400m/800m Specialist

Author: Philip A. Crochen

A. T. Still University

The complexity associated with middle distance training stems from the variability of both physiological and metabolic profiles existing amongst successful middle-distance runners. Middle distance runners, particularly those whom are competitive in the 800m race, focus training anaerobically as well as aerobically, however; scientific literature supports no one-optimal method to balancing the two as some athletes are more skilled endurance runners while others are more anaerobically adept. Recent studies have however indicated that the aerobic contribution to an 800m race is greater than once perceived (Daniels, 2014). Earlier studies indicated that concurrent endurance and strength training, a significant mechanism to anaerobic power, limited increases in strength and power. Thus, it is most important to analyze the athlete prior to program design (Kenney, Costill, Wilmore, 2015).

This program is designed for a 23-year-old male 400m/800m specialist (unattached) in San Diego, CA. The subject is 5’10 ft, 75 kg, and has a VDOT value of 76. His personal record (PR) for the 400m and 800m are 48 seconds and 1:47:80 respectively. Additionally, he runs a 4:15.1 mile. 12-months prior, he strained his left hamstring and did not race again until 4-months after the injury, at which time he ran 51-seconds and 1:49:24 respectively. He has undergone 4- weeks of a 16-week training program, of which this report will detail weeks 5-12. The runner has three primary training goals: improve VDOT value to 77+, improve 400m race performance time to 48 seconds, and improve 800m race performance time to 1:48:50 min. The longest run that the athlete has ran in the last 6-weeks is 15-miles and he has maintained a resistance training routine (bodyweight) for 8-weeks without injury (body squats, hips thrust, bar dips, push up etc).

Three needs analyses were conducted prior to training protocols: injury (IA), physiological (PA), and movement (MA). The results indicated that he is a faster 400m runner than his performance suggests as well as he is a much better speed athlete than endurance. The athlete lacks confidence in his left hamstring and is compromising running economy. Week 5-6 is a continuation of week 4 and aims to improve the resistance to injury, cardiovascular endurance, and fast running mechanics. Week 6-7 builds on cardiovascular gains and aims to improve speed and aerobic power with the introduction of lactate workouts. Weeks 7-9 are spent at altitude in Leadville, CO 3,224m elevation. The introduction of altitude is an added stress and therefore running speed and intensity will be preserved as times are expected to change due to altitude, and frequency will be reduced. Weeks 7-9 is a critical time for hematological adaptations aiding the mechanisms of oxygen delivery. Weeks 9-11 aims to maximize speed gains at sea-level and anaerobic power. Lastly, week 12 reducing volume as an injury prevention mechanism and significantly reduces total volume in preparation for a taper in the remaining weeks of training. The structure of each week based on 52-miles and a one-hundred-point system as defined by Dr Jack Daniels Running Calculator and designed by Run SMART Project (Daniels, 2014).

In the early stages of training, is incumbent to develop an adequate cardiovascular endurance system prior to attempting the latter phases of training. At the onset of exercise, there is a rise in aerobic power reflecting an increased oxygen deficit. Long runs at intensities between 59-74% VO2max >30 mins adequately train the heart and periphery muscles of the body as the maximal stroke volume occurs at approximately 60% HRmx (Busso & Chatagnon, 2006). Additionally, and more specific to the subject, easy running (E ) facilitates building resistance to injury with submaximal impact to joints while allowing the athlete to concentrate on proper running mechanics. The subject has not consistently run at top speed in the previous 12-months due to the lack of confidence in his left hamstring muscle. Long E running >30% in weeks 5 and 6 of training is incentive to practice proper mechanics in a progressively faster order (Daniels, 2014). On average the, Long (L) runs cover 10 miles or 25-30% of total weekly mileage through week 11. Given that the athlete runs 1-mile at E pace in 6:12 m, 60 mins is equal to an estimate of 10 miles. The program is designed to cover an approximate 52 -miles / week +/- 7 mi to remain competitive in elite categories.

Running faster is expected to improve immediately with improved mechanics; however, in order for the subject to achieve his 800m seasonal goal, he will need to accomplish significant metabolic improvements. Weeks 7-9 are designed to be performed at altitude. The expected benefit to training at altitude for 14-days are: increased hematocrit >51%, increase ventilatory threshold, and increase in maximal oxygen consumption. Speeds are kept comparable to weeks 5 and 6 with 5% increases, but as ascension increases, relative intensity increases for the same absolute workload at sea-level (Mazzeo, 2008). Fourteen days of exposure to moderate altitude exposure elicits metabolic and physiological responses at both rest and exercises. Immediate exposure to moderate altitude increases heart rate due to a reduction of inspired air and arterial oxygen saturation. The body responds to hematological disruptions by upregulating erythropoietin and stimulating increased release of erythrocytes into the blood. Increased red blood cell concentration in the blood and unaltered plasma concentration increases the mechanisms to oxygen delivery to active muscles (Mazzeo, 2008). Saunders, Telford, Pyne, Gore, and Hahn observed the effects of incorporating the altitude exposre into training with natural and simulated altitude conditions between 1,700m and 2,200m. Results found comparable improvements to the Live High, Train Low studies where athletes lived at 2,500m for 27-days and trained 1,250m. For middle distance runners, the typical variations is an 1% to 2% increase overall improvement and ~1% improvement of performance time (Saunders et al., 2009). Hemoglobin improvements can be achieved at more conservative altitude, however, Leadville, CO (3,200m) served as a geographical advantage due to the proximity of the municipality to the subject, and that the higher the altitudes, the erythropoietic rate is increased significantly. For residents of different altitudes, the threshold to increasing hemoglobin mass is between 1,600m and 3,100m (Schmidt et al., 2009).

Weeks 10-12 are primarily focused on building speed, anaerobic power, decreasing the risk due to injury. Intensity and accelerated increase proportionally and anerobic power is best developed with full recovery (Daniels, 2014: NSCA, 2016). Maintaining intensity within the training program preserves important anaerobic and aerobic contributors. High intensity training modalities that alternate between briefly repeated blurts of intense exercise and periods of active rest have been found to improve several clinical factors, inclusive of cardiovascular function, maximal oxygen consumption, performance, and oxidative capacity in skeletal muscle (Boyd, Simpson, Jung, & Gurd, 2013). Researchers analyzed whether or not the reduction in total volume and subsequent energy expenditure within a training program decreased or reversed physiological adaptation in sedentary. The application of the data is limited to the test population; however, it was observed that VO2max and exercise performance improved in high volume and low volume groups with high intensity interval training over three weeks. Many studies have agreed with contribution of intensity to increase and or maintain physiological adaptation in healthy populations such as Scribbans, Vecsey, Hankinson, Foster, and Gurd, 2016, that concluded higher intensity training elicits comparable increases in maximal oxygen consumption in significantly shorter training bouts and lower volumes. Increases In recovery time, specifically seen in week 12, allows for the athletes to maintain anaerobic power production and reduce intertrial variability. Speed development is dependent upon adequate recovery, as well as reducing the risk due to injury. For this reason, volume is significantly reduced in the final week of Phase II as the athlete prepares for a training taper to total volume in weeks 13-16 (Billat, 2001).









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Boyd, J. C., Simpson, C. A., Jung, M. E., & Gurd, B. J. (2013). Reducing the intensity and volume of interval training diminishes cardiovascular adaptation but not mitochondrial biogenesis in overweight/obese men. PLOS One, 8(7).

Busso, T., & Chatagnon, M. (2006). Modelling of aerobic and anaerobic energy production in middle-distance running. European Journal Of Applied Physiology, 97(6), 745–754.

Daniels, J. T. (2014). Daniels’ running formula (3rd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Kenney, W. L., Wilmore, J., & Costill, D. (2015). Physiology of sport and exercise (6th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Mazzeo, R. S. (2008). Physiological responses to exercise at altitude: an update. Sports Medicine, 38(1), 1-8. 

National Strength and Conditioning Association. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Saunders, P. U., Telford, R. D., Pyne, D. B., Gore, C. J., & Hahn, A. G. (2009). Improved race performance in elite middle-distance runners after cumulative altitude exposure. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 4, 134-138.

Schmidt, W., Heinicke, K., Rojas, J., Manuel Gomez, J., Serrato, M., Mora, M., … Keul, J. (2002). Blood volume and hemoglobin mass in endurance athletes from moderate altitude. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 34(12), 1934-1940.

Scribbans, T. D., Vecsey, S., Hankinson, P. B., Foster, W. S., & Gurd, B. J. (2016). The effect of training intensity on VO2max in young healthy adults: A meta-regression and metaanalysis. International Journal of Exercise Science, 9(2), 230-247.