Up for a challenge? If you love to run and want to push yourself to the max, consider the 800 meters. It's an equal opportunity event, a punishing sport for both women and men. Coach and former college 800 meter runner David Tiefenthaler, writing at the Tips4Running website, calls the event "the perfect blend of stamina and speed." In short, the 800 meters is a bear. It requires relentless training and exceptional fitness along with cunning tactical skills. Mariya Savinova, 2012 London Olympic Games winner, is nicknamed the "chess master" for her ability to decipher the pace and competition in order to make her move at the optimal moment.
According to coach Steve Gardiner at Everything Track and Field, you'll want to run a faster first lap than second lap. The 800 meter is considered a maximum acceleration/minimum deceleration event, since the distance produces fatigue that rapidly leads to exhaustion. Therefore, you want to cover as much of the distance at the greatest possible speed as you can before fatigue slows you down. However, this doesn't mean sprinting the first 400 meters and then slowing to a crawl -- perhaps literally -- during the second 400 meters. There should be no more than a five-second difference between your first and second laps.
First 400 Meters
You can break up the 400 meters into four parts, suggests Tiefenthaler. During the first 200 meters, you want to get out of the gate at a decent clip to avoid traffic. When you round the first curve into the backstretch, don't feel compelled to cut to the inside lane. Instead, eye the far turn and run in a straight line toward it. During the second 200 meters, run relaxed and fast. If you need to pick up your speed, do so gradually -- a burst will deplete energy you'll need later in the race.
Last 400 Meters
The third 200 meters requires you to consciously pick up your pace. Keep your upper body and even your facial muscles relaxed -- constricting your muscles slows you down. The final 200 meters is torturous, leg muscles on fire and breath coming in gasps. Focus on maintaining good form and, as you come into the final stretch, imagine a slingshot flinging you toward the finish line. However, coach Gardiner believes you can only plan the first lap of the 800 meters. During the second lap "there are too many surprises and unknown factors...."
Although you never know how a race will set up, consider as many variables as possible before the gun goes off. Evaluate the competition. Are there any speedsters who set a rapid pace? If so, you don't want to burn yourself out early trying to stay with her, but you don't want to drop too far behind and let her steal the race either. If you're running against someone with a tremendous stretch kick, you'll want to make your move earlier than she does. In the 2012 Olympics, Savinova got the jump on her main rival, fast-finisher Caster Semenya, and cruised to victory.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.