800m Training: Sub-2:00 (Boys) & Sub-2:20 (Girls)
Running under 2:00 (boys) or 2:20 (girls) in the 800m is a significant challenge, but it's also a major milestone for any high school athlete who can accomplish it.
The goal of this article is to give coaches a clear understanding of the splits needed to run 1:59 and 2:19, as well as a workout then can be used to run the right splits.
Before we dive in, we need to assume that the athlete is already running 2:00-2:01 and 2:20-2:22. If your athletes have been running these times – or at least 2:02 and 2:23 – then the following applies to them. But if the athlete is running 2:04 or slower, or 2:24 or slower, they’re two steps away from breaking 2:00 or 2:20. However, the principles apply to any athlete trying to run a 2-second PR in the 800m, so you’ll want to keep reading.
Ready? Let’s go!
1:59 and 2:19 Splits
The best run 800m races at every level of the sport – high school, college, professional – are positive split races.
A positive split race simply means that the second half of the race is slower than the first half of the race. This is different from all other high school distance races (1600m and longer) where the vast majority of the time athletes will PR when they run a negative split – where the second half of the race is faster.
What this means is that 400m splits of 59/60 and 69/70 – a one-second differential – are more common than even splits of 59.5/59.5 and 69.5/69.5. What we don’t want is a negative split race of 60/59 and 70/69. That’s not the optimal way to run the 800m.
To be clear, if this is counterintuitive – that the second lap would be slower than the first lap – that’s fine. Now you know that you need to teach kids to run the first lap fast, knowing they’ll slow a bit on the second lap.
You can take this a step further and say that most high school races where athletes PR are going to have a 2-3 second difference between the first lap and the second lap. So, 58.5/60.5 and 58/61 for boys and 68.5/70.5 and 68/71 for girls are all great splits.
A four-second differential isn’t horrible – 57.5/61.5 and 67.5/71.5 – yet most coaches like the 2-3 second differential.
If we can agree with the splits above, the question is then, “How can I help an athlete run these splits?”
Three Keys to Breaking 2:00 and 2:20
Let’s keep this really simple. If the athlete can do the following three things, they can break 2:00 or 2:20.
1. Run the first 200m aggressively
2. Run as relaxed as possible from the 200m mark to the 500m mark
3. “Compete!” in the last 300m
We’ve broken the 800m into three segments – 200m, 300m, 300m. Now we need to identify what the athlete needs to do in each segment to PR.
Before I explain both the splits needed in each segment and the mentality needed in each segment, I want you to think about what coaches in other sports do at their practices.
They have athletes practice game situations
They have athletes practice at game speeds
We need to apply that same idea to 800m workouts. We need to have athletes running the splits in practice that they’ll run in the race.
We also need them to have the same energy level for these practices that they do at the meet.
Should they run all out in practice? No. But most high school athletes bring much less energy to the key workouts than they need to if they want to prepare to break the 2:00 or 2:20 barriers. For the workout below to work, they’ll have to bring their “A game” to practice.
What this means is that they’re going to run the same paces in practice that they’ll run in a 1:59 or 2:19 race. Again, a coach in another sport expects their athletes to practice in practice what they’ll do in the game. Your athletes have to practice PR splits to PR at the meet.
Run the First 200m Aggressively
In a well-run 800m the first 200m is the fastest of 200m of the race. And remember that the athlete is doing this from a standing start. Being aggressive here is often the biggest opportunity for an athlete to break these barriers. In a moment I’ll explain what splits we might want to see for the 200m.
Run as Relaxed as Possible from 200m to 500m
A fit 800m runner should be able to run with great posture and feel pretty good from 200m to 500m (the start of the backstretch on the second lap). The key here is not to let the pace slow in this 300m segment. If the pace does slow, it’s going to be hard for the athlete to break the barrier.
“Compete!” in the Last 300m
I love this simple word: Compete!
When you can help an athlete embrace this idea as the only goal for the last 300m, the chance of them running 1:59 or 2:19 for 800m is high. If they have the fitness to run close to 2:00 and 2:20 going into the race, sometimes it’s just as simple as them being ready to be uncomfortable and ready to pass athletes in the last 300m
You might need to have the conversation that to “do things you’ve never done before, you’ve got to do things you’ve never done before.” Most of the time, an athlete who is stuck at 2:00 or 2:20 hasn’t embraced the fact that a PR race is probably going to hurt more than their 2:00 or 2:20 races. But if they want to run 1:59 or 2:19 (or faster!) they need to be ready to hurt for less than a minute.
Now that we have the 800m broken into three segments, let’s look at some splits for each segment.
How To Run 1:59 or 2:19
Here are the splits we’re aiming for in a two second positive split race. To be clear, I think a three second positive split race is fine, too.
The 400 splits are going to be 58.5/60.5 and 68.5/70.5.
“Got it, Jay. But you said the first 200m is going to be aggressive. What should they run for that first 200m?”
Let’s look at 68.5 for the young woman. I really like simple 34.0 and 34.5 200m splits for her. And remember, the 34.0 is from a standing start, so that means she is really running fast that first 200m.
The pace of a 34.0 200m is 68 for 400m, which means she’s running 2:16 800m rhythm. This is going to feel much faster for her than she normally runs, assuming she’s running 2:20-2:23 going into this race. Remind her that if she wants to do things she’s never done before (breaking 2:20) she’s got to do things she’s never done before (going out at 2:16 pace).
It’s crucial that she practices 200s from a standing start in 34.0 (and not 34.5 - that’s not fast enough) for the rest of the splits to get her to 2:19
The first two 200m splits for the young man to run 58.5 are going to be 29.0 and 29.5. The first 200m in 29.0 is 1:56 pace, and just like the young woman, this is a big jump from his current PR of 2:00-2:01.
“Got it. So, what do they need to run for the second 400m?”
The 400m splits are 68.5 and 70.5.
The 200m splits are 34.0, 34.5, 35.0, 35.5.
The 400m splits are 58.5 and 60.5.
The 200m splits are 29.0, 29.5, 30.0, 30.5.
To be clear, athletes aren’t going to hit these splits exactly, but they should be close. If anything, the second split could be a bit faster and the fourth split could be slower...which may mean a 2.5 second differential between the first 400m and the second 400m is just fine.
"This all makes sense, but you said we were breaking the race into three segments – 200m, 300m, 300m. What should those splits be?”
This is a fair question. The athlete should run with the 200m-300m-300m race plan, yet the coach can get the 200m splits. If the race will be videoed, you can go back and look at the 200m-300m-300m splits, yet at the meet, just get these splits.
“Got it! What should we do for a workout to get the athletes ready to run these splits?”
The Workout: 1 x 500m and 3 x 120m
The following workout is a lighter workout and could be done 72-hours before a race. In the Track Training System (TTS) I have full volume workouts and 48-hour workouts. If the race was on Saturday, they’d do the 48-hour workout on Thursday and the full volume workout on Tuesday.
The day before an 800m your athletes can do the 800m Pre-Race Day. Make sure you check out that article and get the PDFs and videos that go along with it. I’m going to assume you’ve read that article to understand some of the following...
- Dynamic warm-up
- 3 x 150m In-n-outs
- 3 x 100m with a run-in at 29.0 or 34.0 pace...so 14.5 and 17.0 for 100m. Take 90 seconds walk/jog between these. We need the athlete to groove the pace that they're about to run. We don't want that first 100m of the 500m to be slow.
- 500m from a standing start, replicating the first 500m of the race. Tell them to be aggressive on the first turn. Boys comes through at 29.0 and 58.5, with a 500m time of 73.5. Girls come through at 34.0 and 68.5 with a 500m time of 86.0. Take 5 minutes of walking, jogging.
- 3 x 120m with a 30m run-in. Ideally, they run by feel and you tell them “run PR pace and feel good.” They should be running 1:58.0 or 2:18.0 rhythm. For a 120m this is 17.7 and 20.7. Make sure they run at least this fast. If they run 1:56 and 2:15-2:16 pace that’s fine, so long as they look good, are running with good posture, and are having fun with it. They recover by walking 100m to the middle of the backstretch, then jogging until they hit the 150m to go mark to do their 30m run-in.
- Jogging isn’t necessary to cool down, but rather do some strength and mobility work...read this article if you don’t trust this 😊
Are They Really Ready to Break 2:00 or 2:20?
If they’ve been stuck at 2:00-2:01 or 2:20-2:22 then they can absolutely break through these barriers with this workout.
Yet, as I said at the beginning of this article, you must be honest with the athlete who has run 2:04 or 2:24 that they are likely two steps away from breaking these barriers.
My college coach often talked about the “next logical step” and for the 2:04 athlete that’s 2:02 and for the 2:24 athlete that’s 2:22.
Make sure you and the athletes are on the same page about this reality.
The Best 800m Training is in the Track Training System
My best 800m training is in the Track Training System.