Many people who run go out for an easy or moderate pace run or jog. This is a great way to stay active but soon you’ll hit a fitness plateau. It’s important to work outside of your comfort zone if you want to see improvements in your race times or if you want to get in shape faster. Building a workout program with easy runs paired with speed work like 400m and 800m repeats is an ideal way to kick things up a notch without burning out.
If you start adding speed work into your running program, you’ll see your pace start to pick up on your easy runs in a couple of weeks. Your next race will most likely be a personal record if you are adding speed work into your program for the first time.
Here are some benefits of adding 800 meter repeats into your program.
Improves running economy
Before we jump into why 800m repeats work, we need to explain running economy.
Here is a short definition of running economy: Running economy is a combination of biomechanical and physiological factors that contribute to running performance. This means that the body is better at using fuel while in an aerobic state which allows the runner to go faster without using as much fuel.
The body improves running economy by learning how to run in a more efficient way. Basically, the body learns when to bounce off the ground when landing and how to get the most out of each stride without using as much fuel. When you’re doing repeats your body learns how to recruit more muscle fibers during each stride allowing for more force each time you hit the ground.
Runners will notice as they fatigue running form breaks down and they will hit the wall faster during a race. Doing 800m repeats allows runners to enter this state of fatigue quickly without putting the same amount of stress on the body as a race. Training this way will help avoid burnout and help runners feel fresh during the race.
Running economy is a bigger factor in predicting race times than VO2 max for distance runners. This is because having better running economy during a race conserves fuel allowing a runner to stay at race pace longer without breaking down. Many professional marathoners have a lower VO2 max than expected because there running economy is so good allowing them to rely less on their heart and lungs.
Improves Lactate Threshold
When you’re out running, or riding a bike I’m sure you’ve felt that burn in your legs. In short this is lactate acid building up in the muscle. When this happens, you start to feel uncomfortable and you may slow down.
Before explaining how lactate threshold is improved by running 800m repeats lets define what it is. Lactate threshold: lactate threshold is the point when the body starts producing too much lactate acid for the body to handle. The lactate acid build up and you will feel a burn in the muscles that you’re using. When you run under your lactate threshold your body will be able to recycle the lactate acid back into fuel and the more you train at or above the lactate threshold the better your body gets at recycling lactate acid.
How do you find your lactate threshold?
Time Trial test
You can use the time trail method by running on a treadmill for 30 minutes at a 1% incline at a pace that you can sustain for that time. At the end of the test you should be spent so make sure not to go out too fast. You can test your lactate threshold on the track or flat surface by doing the same thing, by running for 30 minutes at a maximum pace for the time trial. After you get your numbers, you will take the last 20 minutes of the run and average your heartrate for those 20 minutes to get your lactate threshold. Before doing the test it’s important to warm up. You can do this by jogging or running at a slow pace for a mile then resting for 5-10 minutes before the test.
High tech testing
If you want to skip the time trial test you can use a few different high tech options. Many cites have testing labs that can figure out your VO2 max, heart rate zones and lactate threshold. Some companies like Garmin offer a lactate threshold estimator that measures you while you train to give you lactate threshold based on your training runs. I’ve done the lab tests and I have the Garmin 935 with the lactate threshold estimator built in and I must say they’re very close. So, using ether one is a solid choice.
Do a race
Going all out at a race and using a lactate threshold calculator like the one found here running calculator. After you get a race time you can plug in the information into the running calculator to find out what your lactate threshold is. I recommend at least doing a 10k if you’re using this method because it allows you to push yourself a little longer which will give you better data to work with.
How 800m repeats improve lactate threshold?
If you’re doing 800m repeats correctly, you’ll feel the burn during the 2nd half of the repeat. This allows you do sets a little above your lactate threshold allowing the body to adapt to this uncomfortable state without burning out. Think of it like doing sets of squat, bench, pull ups or leg press in the gym, you feel the burn for a short period. If you try to run long distance at your lactate threshold, you’ll never have gas in the tank for speed work and your training will suffer. Adding one 800m workout per week will do the trick.
Improve VO2 max
If you’re a novice or a mid-level runner doing 800m repeats will help you to improve your VO2 max.
VO2 max is defined as: The maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilize during a specified period of usually intense exercise.
If you do 800m repeats at a fast pace that you can barely handle for that distance your body will need a lot of oxygen. This will help your body adapt to able to use more oxygen while running or doing other sports. Splitting your workout into short 800m intervals will allow you to push yourself to use more oxygen while working out in sets. This will allow you to rest between each repeat. The rest will allow the body to get the most out of each repeat.
VO2 max is a good predictor of race performance and overall fitness. Doing 800m repeats at the proper pace will cause your body to adapt in a few short weeks.
Improves your mental toughness
This one happens to be my favorite benefit of doing 800m repeats because mental toughness is in my mind the most important factor for a runner. When you push yourself to your limits you will learn to deal with a new kind of pain. Each time you do this you will be able to deal with more pain and you’ll be able to suffer more during races. That’s what racing is, it’s suffering. If you want to improve your ability to suffer you need to put yourself in uncomfortable positions. If you’re doing 800m repeats correctly, you will suffer and your mind will become stronger.
How to get your 800m repeat pace
The best way to find out how fast you should do your 800m repeats is to run a race and use the Greg McMillan running calculator listed under the lactate threshold section of the blog. If the pace listed from the calculator feels too fast or too slow adjust by speeding up or slowing down your pace by 15 seconds in either direction.
Side note: Do not run your 800m repeats like you’re racing them. This will lead to burnout.
How to program 800m repeats into your running plan.
If you’re new to doing speed work I would start with doing 4 rounds of 800m repeats increasing the number to 6 the next week and 8 the week after that. After you build up to 8 it’s a good idea to drop to drop to 4 rounds building your way back up to 8 over a few weeks. This will prevent burnout.
If you’re a seasoned running starting at 6 rounds is a good idea, then 8 rounds, then 10 rounds. When I do my 800m repeats I start 30 seconds slower on the first round to get used to the training and ramp it up after a 3-4-week cycle.
Check out our blog on how to improve your 5k time