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Middle Distance Running

Middle distance covers the 800 metres and 1500 metres track events. Comparing past and present world record-holders, it would appear that 800 metres and 1500 metres male athletes are most likely to peak at around 25 and female athletes at 27 years of age.

Middle Distance Running Technique

Guidance on the running technique of the middle-distance runner is provided in the form of a series of pictures and associated notes that highlight the main technical points.

Running Technique The leg's role is supporting and driving. The foot strikes the ground below the centre of gravity (around the central area of the hips). The strike is slightly on the outside of the foot and from the ball of the foot to the mid-foot. There is then a role across and a dropping of the heel.
Running Technique As the foot strikes the ground, there is also some flexion in the knee. It should not be excessive, so leg strength must be developed to ensure stability in and around the knee. There is also some movement around the hip girdle. This can be excessive, so strength exercises for the whole region, especially the abdominal and lower back, are required. This region must be kept stable, thus giving a solid platform for the drive.
Running Technique As the torso moves ahead of the foot, the drive is initiated, and the Achilles and calf are placed under great stress. It is, therefore, important that stretching and strengthening of this area be incorporated into training. Muscle fibres in the calf respond to a reflex action as they are placed in a full stretch and contract quickly, thus apparently straightening the foot, forcing the athlete to back up higher on their forefoot. (This makes the foot a further lever, often forgotten by many runners). The foot "grips" the ground as the torso moves ahead, forcing the leg into full extension. Once again, the strength and flexibility of the hamstrings are important.
Running Technique After the athlete has reached almost full stretch, a reflex action occurs in the muscle fibres of the hamstring, quickly shortening it and pulling the foot up off the ground. This allows the whole of the limb to swing back a bit further. Hip mobility and the ability to stretch the quads at the front of the leg are also vitally important.
Running Technique The upper part of the leg is drawn forward by the action of the quads, and hip flexors begin to shorten. The foot continues on an upward curve,with the help of the contracting hamstring and the hinge effect of the knee joint. It swings into the gluteus maximus (backside), shortening the lever and making it easier to bring forward.
Running Technique The thigh continues forward and swings upwards. The head of the foot drops from its high point and accelerates downwards and forwards. The knee reaches its high point, which is not quite as high as that of a sprinter (i.e. at an angle of around 90 degrees to the rear leg).
Running Technique The foot ends its swing at a point just ahead of the knee. The leg maintains a slight angle at the knee (the leg is not straight). Having reached its high point, the thigh starts a downward swing; this initiates an acceleration of the foot backwards.
Running Technique The foot strikes the floor in a backward motion, adding to the athlete's forward movement.

General Notes

  • There is a very slight "rolling" of the shoulders as the arms keep the body balanced with a pumping action
  • The shoulder joint should be very supple so that as the arm swings through it do not pull them up too much
  • The shoulder girdle and the hip girdle twist slightly in opposite directions, counterbalancing each other
  • The arms do not work too hard and work with the diagonally opposite leg
  • The arm should swing loosely by the side and bent at around 90 degrees. As the arm swings back, there is little or no straightening
  • Hands are held in a very relaxed "fist" with the thumb resting on the forefinger
  • The thumb should be uppermost, and the elbows hang close but comfortably into the side of the body
  • The body is held upright with the back relaxed but straight with minimal forward lean


Note the physical requirements (bold text) identified in the Running Action section above and plan appropriate training sessions into the athlete's training program to develop them.

As you monitor the athlete's technique, look primarily for a Smooth and Relaxed action.

Training Programs

A training program has to be developed to meet the athlete's individual needs and consider many factors: gender, age, strengths, weaknesses, objectives, training facilities etc. As all athletes have different needs, a single program suitable for all athletes is not possible.

Training Pathway


Athletes in the Event Group stage

The following is an annual training program suitable for athletes in the Event Group development stages for the sprint and hurdle events.

Athletes in the Event stage

The following are event-specific annual training programs suitable for athletes in the Event development stage:

Developing the Energy Systems

The training program must develop all the energy pathways, muscular systems and techniques. The different sessions and their objectives are listed below:

Session Objective
30 to 60-minute easy running aerobic capacity
20 minute run just above a steady pace aerobic power (AT)
3 to 10-minute repetition runs
1 to 3 minutes of recovery
aerobic power & lactic capacity
1 to 2-minute repetition runs
2 to 4 minutes of recovery
aerobic power & lactic capacity
45 to 90-second repetition runs
10 to 15 minutes of recovery
lactic capacity & lactic power
30 to 45-second repetition runs
10 to 15 minutes of recovery
lactic power
30 to 45-second repetition runs
reducing of recover
lactic capacity
15 to 30-second repetition runs
10 to 15 minutes of recovery
CP capacity
6 to 15-second repetition runs
1 to 3 minutes of recovery
CP power
Weight training - 1 to 3 RM muscular strength
Weight training - 12 to 20 RM muscular power
Circuit training muscular endurance
Hill runs of 5 to 10 seconds CP power & muscular endurance
Hill runs of 15 to 30 seconds lactic power & muscular endurance
Hill runs of 30 to 60 seconds lactic capacity & muscular endurance
Technique economy and effectiveness of the effort
Rest allows adaptation

Evaluation Tests

The following evaluation tests can be used to monitor the middle-distance athlete's development:

Middle Distance Time Predictors

Test results make it possible to predict potential times for a middle-distance event. The available middle-distance time predictors are:

  • The 1500 metres test provides a method to predict an athlete's 1500 metres time
  • The Kosmin test provides a method to predict an athlete's 800 metres and 1500 metres time

Free Calculator

Free Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that you can download and use on your computer.

Rules of Competition

The competition rules for this event are available from:

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2001) Middle Distance Running [WWW] Available from: [Accessed