How to run the 800m

The race strategy in the 800m is evolving and new questions arise on how to run the 800m fast.  Some coaches want their athletes to run a slower first lap and then speed up on the second lap (negative splits), while other coaches recommend running the first lap faster than the second lap (positive splits).

I’ll be honest and say that the negative split method might be beneficial for young, inexperienced, and undertrained 800m athletes because they will most likely try to run the majority of the race comfortably and then race the last part.  This doesn’t mean that negative split 800m races aren’t for elite athletes, because some elite 800m athletes do use this race strategy, but statistically the majority of the fastest 800m times in the world have been run using the positive split race strategy.

Whether you are an experienced and well -trained mid-distance athlete or not, I’m sure you want to know how to run the 800m, and you want to know how to run it fast!  As you continue to read you will see that this description for running the 800 fast is with the positive split race strategy.

800m training program (learn more)

The 800 meter start

The start of the 800m can either make or break your race strategy, and this could be the difference between a successful or unsuccessful result in your 800m.  This is especially true for the more challenging indoor 800m which is commonly run on a 200m track.  If you are planning on either breaking a track record, your own personal record, or if you enjoy front running and staying away from the pack, then you will want to get a good start and put yourself in the best position for racing success.

When the gun goes off, you will want to accelerate to your 800m goal race-pace in an aggressive manner within the first 20-30 meters.  The goal here is to not waste any time getting into the right race-pace and you certainly want to make sure to put yourself into a comfortable position amongst the rest of the 800m field.

Break line

Depending on the size of the track and the way the official wants to run the meet, the 800m break line (where track athletes cut in) is typically located after the first curve, or the second curve.  It depends if the meet official wants to run a one or two turn stagger.  However, even though these are the typical break lines, be prepared for 800m races that use a waterfall start.

800m waterfall starts can be used for both indoor and outdoor track and with this type of start you may find yourself cutting in immediately after the sound of the gun.  Why?  Because the waterfall start line is also the break line and you are allowed to cut in once the race starts.

Important:  When cutting in, be aware of your surroundings and use good judgment when positioning yourself after the break line.

Don’t be afraid to pass early

It’s really easy to find yourself boxed in, boxed out, or pinned against the rail somewhere early in your race.  If you find yourself running into this problem early in the race, don’t be afraid to make a move to put yourself in a smarter racing position.  If you find yourself in a terrible position and wait too long or aren’t paying attention, the pack might split and you’ll waste your efforts trying to maneuver around runners in order to bridge the gap.

The 200 meter mark time check

When you reach the 200 meter mark, you should arrive 1-2 seconds faster than the next 200 meters you are about to run.  So if your goal is to run the first 400 meter split in 55 seconds, then you would run your first 200 meters in 27 seconds and then reach the 400 meter mark 28 seconds later (55 second 400m split).

First lap:  400 meter mark time check

When truly racing a solid 800, you want to run your 400 pace around 90-93% of your best 400 meter time.  So if you are capable of running a 49 second 400m, then you will want to come in the first 400m of your 800m race in a time around 52-54 seconds.

The end result

Assuming you have a well-executed training plan, you should finish with your second lap being 2-3 seconds slower than your first lap.  If you arrived slower than this figure, you will have to determine if weather, race tactics, training, or any other unforeseen factors had anything to do with the outcome and then make changes accordingly.


Common Errors

Saving energy and sprinting the last 100m

Probably one of the most common themes I see in young and inexperienced track runners is that they will run the majority of the race comfortably.  Then, with the finish line in sight and 100m to go, they take off and literally sprint and look as if they didn’t even attempt to race the first 700 meters.

Don’t let this be you.  Distribute your race energy through the entire race and not just the last 100m.  You will be happier with your race results and probably even spare yourself from being made fun of for saving all of your energy for the last 100m.

Slowing down before the finish line

Most track athletes and spectators have observed races that have either been lost or won at the finish line.  A good example is a race where an athlete gets passed right at the finish line because of an unforeseen surge from a competitor in the final moments of the race.  So keep in mind that whether you are in a close race with a competitor or not, you should always run through the finish line.


800m training program (learn more)