words by Ian Kennedy
As we turn our attention to the new track season, this post is intended to help you optimise your middle distance performances and help in your quest for new PBs.
Let’s remember, that none of us are machines, and how we feel on any given day will vary. It’s not just us as athletes that are variable, there’s also the weather. There’s a perfect temperature that suits each of us, but we often find ourselves racing on days that are either cooler or warmer than we would choose. It’s not just the temperature, wind can be the enemy of an athlete too. Despite all this many of us have managed to ‘pull a rabbit out of hat’ somewhere and produced an excellent performance when the odds seemed stacked against us. Stay positive, even if a great time is out of reach on a given day you can still step off the track with the knowledge that you’ve raced well.
Plus or minus 5 seconds on your target times for a 1500 really are small differences in performance. While it is cool to celebrate our successes, let’s not beat ourselves up about perceived failures as what we are looking for are only incremental gains in overall percentage performance.
Let’s start with warm-up. We take the racing seriously when we hear the starter’s pistol, but we need that mindset before we get to the start line too. Allow yourself enough time for a thorough warm-up, factor in the time you are needed to check-in with the race officials for your event. This is all about planning and avoiding getting flustered through poor organisation. Stay as calm as possible, but a little bit of nervousness/excitement is nothing to worry about as it can lift performance.
Some thoughts on different race distances when chasing times
800m – The best races tend to be run with a marginally quicker first lap. Beware, if you push to hard on that first lap your speed will fall away on lap 2 and deny you the time you are capable of. It’s so important to maintain total focus as you start the second lap, that sector 400-600m is where we tend to lose the most time. We need to minimise losses there as most of us are capable of lifting our game on that final straight, and if we’ve lost too much time earlier in the race our speed in the final sector may not be enough to rectify the situation.
1500m – Solid pacing in the early stages of the race is key to bagging a quick time. 1500m is 3.75 laps, bank the first 2 laps at a pace consistent with your existing PB. At that point it’s time for a judgement call on how you feel and to judge how quickly you should increase your pace. If you lift your pace you’ll need to be able to maintain it, or even lift it further in the final stages. Over time the quality of your judgement will be enhanced by experience from previous races. At the start of a new season we can sometimes be a little rusty and some of that knowledge may take a race or two to come back fully. Each time you race, reflect on it how it went and use what you have learned next time out.
3000m – The principles for racing to your best times over 3000m are much the same as for the 1500. In this instance you have 7.5 laps to do. So having banked some solid early laps based on times you’ve achieved previously, your judgement call here needs to be made somewhere around 5 laps in. It is imperative that you stick to your pre-planned lap times in those early laps and not be influenced by what others are doing. Going too fast, too early, will lead to a probable outcome where each lap becomes progressively slower as you see your target time slip away from you as the race progresses and you become unable to address the situation.
When you set your PB targets they need to be challenging but realistic, getting this right is a balancing act (for guidance on this talk to your coaches). Be careful not to fly to close to the sun on this one. Your targets can be revised as the season progresses. You’re likely to record your best times in competitive races. Racing against someone who is of a similar standard (or slightly faster) will help you. It’s really hard to run great times if you are isolated within a race, whether that be way off the front, or caught between groups within the field.
Early in the season you’ll get a feel for how competitive the league races WAC take part in will be for you. It may be that it’s worth doing some open meetings. Do your research before you go to one of these. You don’t want to travel miles and then find you’re in an uncompetitive race. If there’s an open meeting at Southampton or Winchester for instance, look on https://www.thepowerof10.info/ to see what times were run in those meetings in previous years for your category and event. Are the times run by athletes in past years going to be helpful to you in reaching your PB target? Even when you do you research there are no guarantees that you’ll get a competitive race, but research could allow you to focus on the meetings which give the greater chance of success. Sometimes we travel a distance with a specific target and come away empty-handed. Ultimately those can turn out to be really valuable days if it leads you to ask, ‘What I could I have done better?’. It’s on days like that where you bank valuable experience.
Racing with pacemakers (BMC)
The British Milers Club meetings with pacemakers have been a happy hunting ground for WACers seeking PBs in the past. These meetings are purely middle distance and are well attended. When you enter a BMC race you’ll be asked your target times. This allows races to be graded, putting you amongst other athletes of a similar ability, the perfect environment for PBs.
There are opportunities to race for club runners to compete from under-11 age-group upwards. The races themselves are usually mixed age-group and sometimes mixed gender. When you enter a BMC race you’re asked for your target time so that you can be placed in a race with a pacemaker of appropriate speed, be sensible about this. There are only a few BMC races a year locally without you having to travel vast distances, so don’t blow it by getting yourself into a race that is paced too quickly for you. A pacemaker in an 800 would drop out after completing a lap, in a 1500 they might go for three laps (in a 3000 perhaps five laps). Once the pacemaker drops out, that’s when you really push on having hopefully banked solid early lap times.
You can find details of BMC meetings here – https://www.britishmilersclub.com/ The stand-out meeting to attend here is the one at Millfield (near Glastonbury) on Saturday 28 May https://www.britishmilersclub.com/meeting/millfield-pb-classic-28-may-2022/ Entries for the Millfield meeting opened on 1 April. There are also meetings at Exeter on 26 April, 31 May, 26 July, 30 August (Tuesday evenings … so perhaps a little bit tricky for some if these fall in term time). The Exeter meetings do not have as many heats as the Millfield one, so there is a slight risk that you might find yourself grouped with athletes whose targets are either slightly too fast or too slow. A little further afield and on a par, or perhaps even a little better than the Millfield BMC meeting, is the one at Milton Keynes on Saturday 4 June https://www.britishmilersclub.com/meeting/milton-keynes-pb-classic-04-june-2022/ There are a number of meetings described as ‘Gold Standard’ at Watford on Wednesday evenings which require entry standards (with the bar set quite high), if you have the standard these are extraordinary occasions and well worth the trip.
English Schools standards
The premier event on the calendar for school-age athletes is the English Schools Track & Field Championships. This features the finest athletes in England, and qualifying entry standards are set deliberately high to ensure that the numbers on the start line are manageable. If you meet ES qualifying standards then consider yourself one of the country’s elite young athletes. WAC has guided a number of middle distance athletes to the English Schools Championships in the recent past including Daisy Baker, Tom Bourne, Grace Copeland, Piers Copeland, Abbie Hine, Maddy Johnson, Abbie Lovering, Marianna Sawyer and Emily Shaw (with Mary Butler also making the standard but unable to take part), some of these on multiple occasions.
To be considered for the 32 person Dorset squad for Manchester in July, you will need to be at least at Entry Standard and even that may not be good enough depending on how many reach National Standard. In recent years it’s been a requirement of Dorset team selection that you must compete at the Dorset Schools Championships, or failing that the South West Schools Championships.
Those at district level will get a place at the County Championships, and those attaining County standard at the Championships, will have a good chance of selection for the South West Championships. The qualifying standards for middle distance for this year’s English Schools Champs are:
National Entry County District
Juniors (Years 8 & 9)
Boys 800 2:02 2:05 2:13 2:20
Boys 1500 4:13 4:20 4:36 4:50
Girls 800 2:15 2:18 2:26 2:33
Girls 1500 4:40 4:48 5:03 5:20
Inters (Years 10 & 11)
Boys 800 1:55 1:57 2:05 2:10
Boys 1500 4:03 4:06 4:20 4:30
Boys 3000 8:50 8:56 9:35 10:00
Boys 1500 steeplechase 4:32 4:40 5:05 5:20
Girls 800 2:13 2:16 2:25 2:32
Girls 1500 4:39 4:45 5:00 5:15
Girls 3000 10:10 10:20 11:10 12:00
Girls 1500 steeplechase 5:13 5:23 5:50 6:15
Seniors (Years 12 & 13)
Boys 800 1:52 1:54 2:02 2:10
Boys 1500 3:55 3:58 4:15 4:30
Boys 3000 8:33 8:36 9:20 10:00
Boys 2000 steeplechase 6:18 6:18 6:50 7:15
Girls 800 2:12 2:16 2:25 2:32
Girls 1500 4:36 4:42 5:00 5:15
Girls 3000 10:06 10:16 11:10 12:00
Girls 1500 steeplechase 5:10 5:17 6:00 6:15
For the girls, notice that the difference in times between Inters and Seniors is a modest one. Having seen steady gains in earlier years, it’s not unusual for PBs to be harder to come by at this stage. It’s a time of consolidation for you. You may buck the trend, but if you don’t, then don’t lose heart … stay focussed and positive.
If you make the Dorset T&F team and you get one of those green hoodies with ‘ATHLETICS’ emblazoned on the back those of us involved in athletics all know what an achievement and badge of honour that is.
Are you running for a time, or a result?
We often chase times rather than results, as faster times may be a pre-requisite for qualifying for certain events. Say you’ve qualified for a championship event i.e. EA age-group Champs or English Schools Finals, you’ll will need to have proved you have reached a certain standard to be make the start line. Once there the priority becomes the result … Can you medal? Perhaps the most obvious example of this is for Olympic athletes, their thought is of the podium (preferably gold), not can I improve my PB. The tactics for racing fast times are not always the best for race wins. If you know you have a fast finish (faster than those you are competing against) it’s to your advantage if the race is run at a slower pace (both Piers Copeland and Emily Shaw have this trick in their lockers – see link for Emily’s 3000m at English Schools https://www.vincosport.com/videos/34487/ ). However, if you are more of a frontrunner and need to take the sting out of the quick finishers then it’s in your interests to have faster early laps at a sustainable pace.
Somewhat surprisingly, based on what we have all seen in recent years, there’s an outstanding example of running an even-paced race from Piers at the English Schools Games at SportCity in 2015. Piers was able to use https://www.thepowerof10.info/ to check the form of those he was running against, and he’d also raced against some of them at the English Schools Finals earlier that year. Having done the homework, it appeared Piers best chance was if he was to run at a carefully worked out race pace for the duration of the entire race (at a pace that would be a challenge, and would produce a PB, but was a realistic target). The race cast Piers in the now unfamiliar role of rank outsider/underdog … he was competing against athletes with faster PBs including the English Schools Champion, English Schools silver medallist, Scottish Schools Champion and Ulster Champion. Piers plan was executed to perfection. Having watching it again for the first time for ages … OMG it’s a thriller! Here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUhFSkm85ZU (go to 6:53.23 on the clip). Sometimes the plan is spot on and so is the execution of it (as here), there’ll be others days where either the plan or execution isn’t right, in which case you contemplate what you experienced and use what you’ve learned in future races. There are times when you have a plan and you have to adapt as you race as events unfold.
If the race you are in has qualifying heats, then getting through those qualifiers is an art in itself. Usually the first so many (maybe 2 or 3) finishers in each heat are through to the final automatically. There may also places for what are often termed ‘fastest losers’. The trick in running heats is to qualify by expending the least amount of effort. In the early heats you’ll know that there’ll be guaranteed qualifying places for the final, what you can’t know is what speed is required to qualify as a fastest loser. Those racing in later heats have an advantage as it will be come clearer what time they need to run in order to make the final and this will impact on their strategy for the heat.
Looking for inspiration?
The Diamond League meeting in Birmingham on 21 May will have a quality international field (including Piers Copeland), more details here https://www.diamondleague.com/home/
Also in Birmingham are the Commonwealth Games https://www.birmingham2022.com/ which take place over 11 days from 28 July. Tickets for Birmingham 2022 are currently off-sale but will be available to buy available in mid-April. The full timetable of events can be found here https://resources.cwg-qbr.pulselive.com/qbr-commonwealth-games/document/2022/03/17/f1f01691-2243-4d8b-9561-a67e5185e749/B2022-CompetitionSchedule-March2022.pdf
On Saturday 14 May there’s the quite extraordinary ‘Night of the 10,000m PBs’ at Highgate, the track at the foot of Parliament Hill. This must be one of the finest sporting spectacles in the country with FREE ADMISSION. This has it all, the early races feature local-based school age athletes and it builds into the night culminating with races featuring international athletes. Within the meeting there will be a mile race which will feature Piers. There’s a carnival atmosphere, with street food, circus entertainment and pumping music from the back straight DJ. You’ll find details of the event here https://www.nightofthe10kpbs.com/
Why not team up with clubmates and travel together to these meetings and make a real occasion of it.