SPIKES asks Jenny Meadows: is the 800m the toughest race?

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Former 800m world record holder Seb Coe has described the race as “the toughest event physiologically, and the toughest event on the track to get right”.

We asked GB skipper and defending European Indoor 800m champion Jenny Meadows, and her husband and coach Trevor Painter, is Coe right?

Jenny Meadows: “It is one of the toughest events in terms of getting the balance right. The training for 800m can be so varied. On any given day you might be running flat-out sprints in the morning and then on an evening doing tempo runs. So to do well at the 800m, I need to have a good endurance base but also have the speed to produce a good kick-finish.” 

Trevor Painter: “On top of that, it’s the fastest race not run on lanes [but for the first 100m], so there’s a real tactical element to the 800m, combined with a speed and intensity. It is a pretty ferocious race.”

How many times in your career do you feel you’ve ran the perfect 400?

JM: “I probably got the first 400m right at the World Championship final in Berlin, when I won the bronze in a PB of 1:57.93. I got that medal because Trevor had judged perfectly the pace I needed to run. He believed if I went through the first lap in 57.5 it would leave me enough strength to run the second lap at my maximum.

"That day I went through the bell in 57.49. If I had run a 56.5 or 57 flat first lap I’d have no strength left. If I’d run 59 or 58.5 I wouldn’t have ran the first lap quick enough to utilise my strength. There really is a minute margin for error. I had to commit to running a 57.5 first lap wherever it put me in the race. A lot of decisions need to be taken with your coach in an 800m race, and you need to run the race to suit you.

"The 800m attracts a different variety of athletes. The 400m-based athlete like myself and the 1500m-style athletes who are a lot stronger. There are a lot of different routes to running a fast 800m.

"Mind you, my performance in Berlin wasn’t perfect. I ran the second lap very wide in lane two and I could have probably ran 1:57 had I not done this. It was, though, a time when I was very in tune with my body and I knew what I needed to do."

What is the biggest challenge faced when trying to run an 800m?

TP: “To make sure you maximise your potential on the day. It is all about making sure you don’t give too much or too little in the first part of the race, which will then allow you to be in the right place in order to strike and get the most out of yourself.

"They say the 800m is a 60-40 per cent mix between aerobic and anaerobic usage, but the most important thing is: if I trained a group of 800m runners I would need to treat them all individually."

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Dai Greene and Jenny Meadows get dressed up for some competitive tea drinking

Have you made any major mistakes running the 800m?

JM: “The biggest race I learned from was the final of the 2008 World Indoor Championships in Valencia. I’d been the fastest qualifier for the final, cruising through in a personal best of 1:59.7.

"Yet in the final I ran much slower in 2:03 and finished fifth. You always expect a final to be quicker but back then I didn’t have the tactical brain or courage to run from the front. I let other athlete’s dominate me. I have learned more from my defeats than victories."

Why do you think the 800m is the best race?

JM: “It is such an unpredictable event. In a sprint race or a throws event you can look at an athlete’s current form and more or less call the result. But in the 800m, this is less the case.

"Even when looking at the results you ask yourself the question. How was the race run? Was there a pacemaker, was it fast from the beginning, was it tactical? Also, where did the winner strike from? Was the race won more on strength? There is no clear outcome. An athlete may be two seconds quicker than the rest of the field going into a race but might not win. It is drama at high speed."