Update on my 800m training – April 2021

April arrived and I was excited, after four months of following a Jack Daniels 800m training plan, to see how it had paid off. I know I’ve been feeling fitter, faster and stronger but how would it affect my 800m time?

Back in December I ran 2:58 with estimated splits of 39sec followed by 45, 45, 49s.

My fastest 200 in training has been 37.45s, which multiplies to 2:30, so that gave me a cap to what my top end could be. There’s no way I was going to run all four at 37½ so any thoughts of hitting 2:30 were out.

At the other end, I’ve been feeling fairly comfortable running 200s at 44-45s in recent weeks so figured this would be the pace I’d slow to before the final sprint to the line.

This was my realistic range for what I might achieve – 2:35-45. I was hoping I might break 2:40, as that seems like a nice round number. Here’s what happened …

Time Trial #1 – Friday 9th April 2021

I had two recovery days after my last workout and, on the morning, I went for a 1½ mile run to loosen up. It didn’t feel that good aerobically but my legs felt ok.

I had a light lunch, earlier than usual, to ensure it would be digested by the time I ran at six in the evening. I’d selected this day and time predominantly based on weather. My original plan had been to run on Saturday morning thereby giving me three recovery days but the forecast was for it to be 15mph windy by 8-9am. Friday evening’s weather was only 5-6mph and gave the added bonus of having the day to eat and hydrate going into the run. I usually find my body is happier in the evenings.

While I know the 800 is all about effort, and I’d advise anyone to go out at about 90-95% top speed; I was no longer sure what 90-95% would feel like after all the training. I’m now going faster in sessions, even when legs are tired, than I was in December. Unfortunately I didn’t do any prediction workouts and even if I had I probably wouldn’t be able to pace accurately. I decided to just go out reasonably hard and hang on.

On arriving at the park, I ran warm-up and my legs/breathing felt ok. I did three sets of strides and while I felt I put a decent effort into them, my watch was suggesting they weren’t that quick but I put this down to my Garmin being unable to adjust quickly enough so I remained confident.

I gave myself an eight minute break between warm-up and the time trial to let any waste products get out of my legs. But it was a cold, grey evening and I felt a few spots of rain; so I didn’t hang around as long as I might have liked.

I went with the standing split start I’ve been learning, which makes it harder to start the watch, but I was away.

Oh my word, my legs felt unbelievable.

The first time I’ve run hard in months without any lactate in them. They felt so quick and unhindered that it surprised me. I was almost stumbling. I got to 300m and began to start breathing harder but it didn’t feel as tough as it did last December.

Further on my shoulders began to ache. A lot. This only happened to me once in training but apparently also on the last time trial. My legs began to tie up and stumble but I kept going and overall I was feeling confident that I was cutting through the air at pace.

I reached the final stretch, jumping into the empty road and then back onto the path because of walkers and then gave it my final sprint.

My time was astounding …

I could barely believe it …

Two minutes fifty-five seconds.

Only a three second improvement over last time.

It’s so far below expectations that I couldn’t even feel disappointed about it. Four months of good hard training where I’ve felt fitter, faster, stronger and leaner yet no notable improvement.

Perplexing is the word I’d use about it.


Before the next time trial I did recovery runs. On the Sunday I went for a 10-mile long run and began to wonder whether I was really getting the hip or knee extension required to get full force. I started looking at videos on sprint mechanics. Youtube videos and internet articles, the bane of all self-coached sportspeople, but for once I did glean some information that changed how I’ve been thinking about sprinting.

By the time I ran on the Monday, my legs felt like they’d recovered from the time trial and my mechanics were feeling powerful in a way they haven’t in years.

Time Trial #2 – Wednesday 14th April – five days after the first time trial

I decided to start off slower. The first time trial had estimated 400m splits of 1:23 / 1:32 – which are too far apart – ideally there should only be two or three seconds difference. I decided to go out slower, aiming for around 43s on the first 200 (it was 39s on TT1), and if I could replicate that for the second 200m it would take me through halfway in 1:26. In truth, I expected the first section still to be too quick but hopefully by not putting in as much effort, I would be closer to a decent pairing.

It didn’t work out anything like that. I started with less effort but once again my splits for the first 100-200-300 metres each came in at 20 / 40 / 60 seconds but by the 400m mark I was at 1:24 (compared to 1:22-23 on TT1). Once again I started to struggle with the lactate build-up in my legs and arms, and I began to feel my stride ebb away and become uncoordinated. I went through 600 in 2:12-13 (4=5 secs slower than TT1) and finished off with a somewhat lacking sprint to clock 3:00.  Eke!  Worse than my original time trial.

What to make of all this?

While the three second improvement between December and TT1 is technically quicker, to me it’s a negligible improvement, TT2 shows this. I feel there’s something I haven’t unlocked because as I said before I’ve felt fitter, faster and stronger as the months have gone by.

Thinking back on the training, I’ve struggled throughout on the longer intervals of 400 and 600 metres, which points to an endurance issue. I’ve definitely improved it but perhaps not as much as I needed. My Sunday long run has improved from around 8:35/mile to 8:10/mile but that’s still a long way from my 800m pace of 5:50/mile. I’m hoping the upcoming phase of endurance training will bring them closer together.

With regards to following Jack’s plan, I’ve been 95% faithful. I’ve done every effort of every session as he defined them. I’ve not dropped any workouts, swapped days around or changed any of the parameters of workouts. Admittedly my long runs have been longer than his suggested 1-hour but I don’t think that diminished anything.

The one omission that may have been crucial is not doing strides on two of my weekday Easy runs. That might have dug out more speed for the Time Trials but I deliberately didn’t do them as my running history has shown my endurance goes backwards when I do. Even without them, I have found my top end pace is registering as faster. Back in December I couldn’t break 5min/mile but when the time trials rolled around I hit 4:38/mile.

The next six weeks

I decided there wasn’t any point in doing a third time trial, after the second one came in slower, but to begin the endurance phase immediately. It was noticeable that in the following long run, my easy run pace had dropped.

My new schedule through to June involves running eight mile Steady runs on Tuesdays and Friday with a twelve mile long run on Sunday. The rest of the week will be recovery runs and I’ll slip in strides occasionally to keep all the faster muscles involved.

Week 1 – the Tuesday steady peak with an 8:10 mile and the last four miles were all run closer to 9min/mile. Three days later I was hampered by strong winds on the outward leg and pushed home with a peak 7:55 mile for a two-minute improvement.

Week 2 – the first Steady run of week 2 brought calm conditions and a decent improvement. The fastest mile came in at 7:29 and all the miles except the last were under eight minutes. Seven minutes taken off the previous Tuesday’s run. The Friday Steady was relatively calm but my legs must still have been recovering as the last five miles all came in at about 8:05/mile. The Sunday long run, straight out of bed and fasted at 5:55am, was a season’s best on a hillier route via Gravel Hill and Broadstone averaging 7:58/mile

Rounding up my thoughts and feelings

Overall I’m not too unhappy with how this went. As I’ve already said, I know I’m fitter, faster, stronger and lighter. I’ve lost about half a stone in weight since the beginning of January as I began to fire up some of the muscles fibres I’ve stopped using over the past few years. Simply from that perspective, the training has been worthwhile.

I am slightly frustrated though. I’ve done everything by the book and got no result from it. I’m questioning whether Jack’s plan is right for me as I know I’ve self-trained to run whole kilometres at quicker paces than my all-out 800m. I have one or two thoughts on how I could adjust things but I’m going to stick with it for another round of training. I have a suspicion that the endurance training I’ll be doing through May will actually lead to a faster 800 in June.

It became clear to me in February that, entering this training plan, I had a big gap between my easy pace and my 800m pace that needed to be closed up. I hadn’t run faster than 7:30/mile in the build-up and there was nothing to bridge the gap to my 800m pace. While the training did that to a good extent, I believe I now need to cement over the gap and then I’ll start making progress in my 800 time.

I’ll follow the plan again, which will take me through to September and then see where my 800 is at. But parkrun is due back in June so I may find myself attending one or two of those. If I do so, then I’m going to have to go off Jack’s plan somewhat but so be it.

Short sprint – No-one’s racing anymore

A few years back, I was going through the preliminaries of ascertaining whether I would be the right coach for a potential client. One of his questions to me was whether I could help him with racing. My reply was that it was something I had no experience of, but fortunately despite this, he still went ahead and took me on as his coach.

It later transpired we’d had different definitions of racing. He’d wanted to know if I could help with what to do on the day of his mass participation marathon race (which I absolutely could) whereas I’d been defining racing as what happens when you’re trying to finish ahead of your fellow competitors. For most people, when they talk about attending a race they’re really talking about a time trial – how quick can they run the distance?

Parkrun is not a race. For starters its insurance doesn’t cover it which is one reason why there are no race numbers or race clocks. Parkrun doesn’t even have a winner, it has a First Finisher, although when I first attended it did, until the nomenclature changed. If you look back to its beginnings, parkrun started as Bushy Park Time Trial then, as other events opened, it became UK Time Trials before rebranding as the friendlier sounding parkrun.

Running doesn’t have any true time trial events like say, cycling where riders go off at intervals of a minute or more and the winner is the one covering the distance in the quickest time. Admittedly when I orienteered it was done against the clock with runners having their own start times. This is a logistical necessity to ensure they don’t all reach the check points at the same time and have to wait to punch their card. But orienteering isn’t a pure running sport, it’s also a test of your ability to navigate, runners go off at intervals to avoid being able to follow someone else.

Typically elite runners do time trials to find out what form they’re in. When it comes to races the goal is simply to finish ahead of the person behind you. Often championship medals are won in times slower than heats especially at longer distances.

Of course there are some (many?) who turn up to parkrun and think they’re racing against others but true racing is a tactical art. It’s about letting your opponents take the breeze, it’s about knowing your strengths, their weaknesses and how to gain an advantage. It’s knowing when to go with the pack and when to let leaders go it alone hoping they’ll burn themselves out. This is the tactical stuff I’ve not got any experience of because I’ve never been good enough to need to learn it. I understand some basic theories as I’ve outlined but I’ve never experienced them. Like almost everybody else, I just run as fast as possible trying to get the best time I can.