800m Training 101⏱

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All Around The World Cross Country Championships 🌎

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

The Serbia-hosted World Cross Country Championships were not originally supposed to be held in the flat grounds of the Park of Friendship in Belgrade, but alas, they were. 

In September, World Athletics announced an immediate search for a new host as the Croatian Plan A fell apart at both Medulin and Pula. Given Belgrade’s short notice, it feels like this year’s event deserves a pass despite the criticism about small crowds and a less-than-creative course. Maybe I’m feeling charitable, but beyond the date in the calendar, there’s another parallel between Serbia’s decision to step up as host and Good Friday — both involve paying the ultimate price for the sins of others. 

Truth is, it’s been a rough few years for World Cross, aside from the strong crowds and deep fields in Aarhus, Denmark, at the 2019 edition. And while I want to acknowledge the fact that this year’s host committee did put together a global championship event in a matter of months, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge that all course reports seem to indicate a subpar viewing experience with locals being boxed out from the action via fences. 

Prior to this past weekend, there was a four-year World Cross gap since Bathurst due to the pandemic. We’ve had our rust buster. But now, heading into 2025 as a gap year, the official Lap Count stance is that there are NO EXCUSES. If it seems like that’s a lot of pressure to put on Tallahassee in 2026: to re-establish the world championship to the prestige of its heyday, that’s because it is! (This whole video of 2007 is insane… I mean!) But another official Lap Count stance is that I BELIEVE IN TALLAHASSEE and also it’s an UNDERRATED PLACE FOR WINTER TRAINING.

Part of the problem recently is that aside from the African powerhouses, very few countries now send their best squads or individuals. There are a few outliers, like Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal who finished 14th, or Team USA’s Weini Kelati who finished 15th. And on the men’s side, France’s Mehdi Frére and Australia’s Patrick Tiernan will be competing in the marathon, but this was not a who’s who of pending Summer Olympians. 

Across the board, only six men competed who also ran on the track at the 2023 World Championships in Budapest. That leaves a lot of room for improvement! For the first time since 1992, World Cross will be returning to the United States, which hopefully at the very least improves the prospects of our own squad including our A-listers. 

A big advantage will be the timing. The race will take place in the beginning of January rather than the end of March as is often the tradition. The call of money on the roads is much too large to try and out-incentivize those athletes, but for track specialists, being well-timed within the build-up of the season could hopefully make it more attractive. Time to start pounding the “a world championship is a world championship” drum. A cross title doesn’t need to come with an asterisk!


Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

In a perfect world, the competing athletes at World Championships would be relatively consistent and the strengths and weaknesses of each would be exposed according to the distance and terrain. Just as Rafael Nadal dominates on clay-courts, there would be venues better suited for the grinders vs. speed freaks. And if there is one athlete that would blow up this entire thought experiment by having no weaknesses, then it would be Beatrice Chebet.

With a personal best of 14:05 for 5000m to her name, Chebet has now collected her third individual gold medal from World Cross: two senior titles and a junior win from 2019. In 2023, Chebet took home hardware from the track in Budapest, the roads in Riga, and the grass of Bathurst. And if there was an indoor track in Kenya, then I am certain she’d have been coughing up a lung with a gold medal draped around her neck! 

This race played more or less as expected – we were treated to the absolute dominance of the Kenyan women, who despite only needing four scorers, swept the top five spots. They ran much of this race on top of one another like the 2011 Wisconsin men and scored a perfect 10 points, just as they did once before in 2017, albeit with an even tighter spread.

If you have been yelling at the clouds these past few years about shoe tech, the thing to love about cross country is that super shoes don’t really do a whole lot here. The benefit of extreme levels of cushioning and carbon plates are reduced by the variability in each step and the slop of mud. And someone like Agnes Ngetich, who just ran a mind-shattering 10K world record of 28:46 on the roads is suddenly relegated to being the fifth best on her own team, which is still light years (33 seconds) better than the rest of the world. 

While Kenya (10), Ethiopia (41), and Uganda (44) on the podium were foregone conclusions, barring disaster, Team USA finished best among the rest in a distant fourth (113).

K-I-P-L-I-M-O… And Kiplimo was his name-o! U🇺🇬

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

It wasn’t much more than a year ago that I was penning articles claiming that Joshua Cheptegei will eventually go down as the greatest distance runner of all-time… and there is still a chance that’ll prove true! But maybe we should be redirecting some of that attention toward his countryman, Jacob Kiplimo.

Dating back to his first World Cross victory in Australia, Kiplimo has won his last three races against the Olympic and World champion. Kiplimo has now beaten Cheptegei on six occasions throughout their careers (vs. nine head-to-head wins for Joshua), however, not once has it been on the track. If Kiplimo is to make the leap into the conversation about the best distance runner right now, let alone of all time, then he has to start winning on the oval. Watching him clear those bales of hay maybe it’ll be in the steeplechase!

Kiplimo earned a bronze at 10,000m in both Tokyo and Eugene, but due to a hamstring injury just before Budapest, he was unable to line up there. It feels inevitable that the golden snitch will find its way to him – at just 23 years old he’s got personal bests of 12:41.73 and 26:33.93. The issue is that the road will be calling his name soon as he still holds the half marathon world record of 57:31.

There might be legitimate complaints about the depth of World Cross Country, but the front of the pack is star-studded. The once-again silver medalist, Berihu Aregawi of Ethiopia, was 4th in the Budapest 10,000m and has run 12:40.45. The bronze medalist Benson Kiplangat arguably is not helping this argument as he has “only” run 13:02… but in 4th was Nicholas Kipkorir, and in 7th was the World Road Running half marathon champion, Sebastian Kimaru Sawe. And yet Chelimo made this look like just another parkrun.

Kenya (19) won the team title, with Uganda (31), and Ethiopia (40) rounding out the podium. The United States finished 7th.

Mixed Relay, Rave Reviews! 🙌

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

I’m always saying two things: 1.) there are too many events, and 2.) we should focus more on racing and less on time.

And while the mixed relay flies in the face of that first argument, it’s just about as good as it gets in terms of the second. Think about it: cross country is pure racing. Time doesn’t matter, and tactically, you’re up against your competition as well as the constantly shifting terrain. How do we make time matter even less, and the course less predictable?, and thus, the racing even purer? Easy. 

Make it a relay with a weird enough distance (1887m long, with the first and last legs roughly 200m longer) that nobody is gonna know how to pace it, especially through mud. So while the mixed relay on the track still hasn’t earned my praise, I’ll give it credit here.

Suggestion for Tallahassee 2026: Don’t announce the relay course distance ahead of time and before each leg, show the athletes how far they’re going to run at the last possible minute via a janky sign that resembles the train departure notifications at Penn Station.

Oh… what happened in this year’s race, you’re perhaps wondering? Kenya dominated, Ethiopia ran well but lost a shoe, Great Britain scored its first World Cross medal in god knows how long, and the US struggled a bit on the anchor as Katie Izzo missed five weeks of training due to a broken bone in her foot.

In partnership with the Bermuda Grand Prix

If you’re interested in a spring getaway to a warm weather destination and want to also watch some quality track and field + get a chance to meet some of the biggest stars – the Bermuda Grand Prix has put together several packages to bring you that experience from April 26th to 29th. Spectator/Olympic Alumni Packages include round-trip airport pickup and drop-off and hotel accommodation at the Coco Reefs Resort, tickets to the opening and closing events, access to the USATF Bermuda Grand Prix 2024, ground transportation to the National Sports Centre and more. Packages start at $1,335.

It’s never been easier to get to Bermuda. Plus, your stay at the Coco Reef Resort is just ten minutes from the City of Hamilton, centrally located, close to the track, restaurants and bars and most importantly, just steps from the beach.

The meet at Flora Duffy Stadium on April 28th starts at 3 p.m. ET and will be televised on NBC from 5 to 7 p.m. ET. You can also find general ticket information here.

Catching up with coach Justin Rinaldi ✍️

In 2018, Josh Hoey ran 1:47.67 to set the high school indoor national record. He turned pro rather than attend Oregon. Hoey ran a PB of 1:47.04 this indoor season but this weekend had a huge breakthrough to win the Florida Relays in 1:45.54. His brother Jaxson also ran a new best of 1:46.86. I hadn’t realized that the pair is now being coached by Justin Rinadli of Fast 8 Track Club and thought it was a good opportunity to catch up with the Australian coach about how some of his star pupils are progressing this Olympic year.

The result that sparked my interest in speaking with you was the big personal best of Josh Hoey this past weekend. He and his brother Jaxson have struggled to break through since high school and since you are always so transparent about your training, I guess a good place to start is: what have you done with the Hoey brothers this year?

I see a lot of myself in Josh, where when I was back running in the 90s, I overtrained and had the ability to push myself really hard, and not break down. But it was actually a detriment to my running because I was overtraining. So the main thing we are focused on with Josh is actually pulling him back. 

He wants to do more, and sometimes you just need to do a little bit less. That's the main difference I've done this year compared with what he's done in the past. We also tend to focus on both ends. People think we are a speed based program because we do a speed workout every Monday, but we also focus on the strength on Saturday. As you know, coach Gags (Frank Gagliano) would say, “you put the speed and strength in a bowl and you mix it up and you should get a good 800 at the end of it.” I think just my version of speed is a little bit quicker than the traditional version.

The interesting challenge then, which is also the case with Will Sumner, is that they're not in front of you all the time as you are coaching them remotely. How does that setup work? I think most coaches would say it's difficult enough to hold an excited athlete back so how is it possible to do that from afar? 

It's important to have good relationships with their support network that surrounds them. For the Hoeys, it's their dad and high school coach who are present for the training sessions. 

And then for Will, it's his parents. You know Brad and Tosha, both athletes themselves who ran 1:46 and 2:00. There's lots of back and forth conversations with both the athletes and that support network. 

Without a doubt, I'd love to be there. And we actually have a training camp in Albuquerque starting in May so we'll all be together as a group. Because like you said, having the coach there with eyes on the athletes is definitely where you get the most value from the coach, but without the relationship we have with the parents and the coaches that help it wouldn’t be possible. 

So how is Will doing? Everyone was blown away by his race last year at NCAAs. And then indoors he was a little banged up so how's the progression now?

He was carrying an Achilles injury throughout last year during the NCAA season, but he was able to manage it. But it was continuing to flare up during November and December when we're trying to get good consistent training in, week after week. So we decided to skip the indoor season and he got a PRP injection into his Achilles just to help settle it down. And that actually involved three injections spaced out over a three week period. So he has an injection then has to have a down week, then he can go train for two weeks and then he has another one and he just had his third injection last Tuesday. It seems to be responding well so hopefully we can get it going outdoors by mid-April.

From your personal perspective, what's it like taking on someone of Will's stature who obviously has a ton of pressure on him just because of what he's already accomplished at a young age? And how do you approach that from a psychological perspective?

It's scary as a coach because you can't help but feel that [pressure] because the expectation on Will, after running 53-51 to go 1:44 at NCAAs, are that he can be a world beater. Though watching his career since high school I know what he's capable of and am confident in my abilities as a coach, and he's the sort of athlete to live up to those expectations. But I remind him that he's only 20 and we don't have to be the best in the world at 21 or 22. The real focus is to make the Olympic Games this year, but 2028 is the ultimate goal. If you want to be the Olympic champion in 2028, we've got to make sure we are progressing slowly over the next four years towards that goal.

Jumping around the roster next, you get to see Peter Bol regularly and his outdoor campaign has started. After last year – which we don't have to dive into again if you don’t want – there was an unbelievable amount of distractions. How is he doing physically now, but even more so emotionally with the weight of the world off his shoulders for this build up?

Last year was incredibly taxing, both physically and emotionally. He did incredibly well to bounce back and run 1:44 twice, but I think the real pressure came when he went to the World Champs, and we still hadn't mended that relationship between ourselves and our federation. And I think when you go into that team environment, it's pretty hard to hide from the people in power there. 

That pressure got to him and it was almost a relief when he got out in the heats because I could just see the pressure just off of him from that point on. And we made a conscious decision on the one year anniversary of when we found out about that positive test, which ended up being a false positive, to put everything that happened in the last twelve months behind us and move on. You can't carry that weight on your shoulders and run two laps on the track really fast.

He's bounced back well this year. He had a little bit of a hamstring injury, probably pushing training a little bit too hard because he really wanted to beat Jake Wightman in the mile in Melbourne and sort of stretched things a little bit too much in training, but we pulled back now and he's back racing pretty well.

The 1:44s last year despite everything is impressive, but running that 3:34 kind of stands out! That's quite a good run for a guy who I think would best be described as a true 800 guy. What do you take out of that and his development on the strength side?

It takes a great athlete to run 3:34 – I think you'd agree with that, Kyle. Typically we're a low mileage program, running about 55km, which is just over 30 miles a week. But we do some big workouts, like 8 x 1000m or 5 x mile and he might do those in 4:45 on a dirt path. So while the overall mileage is low, those sessions help bring out his best form over 1500. And when he's running good 800s in 1:44 and still doing those longer workouts in Europe, going through in 1:58 is not that difficult. And if he's in connection with a lap to go he can sort of push through and run a good 1500. I think he could run about 3:32 if we did a few more of them, because we typically only do one a year.

Every time someone runs fast in an over-distance event, the collective thought is that they should move up. But just from a longevity standpoint, Peter is 30, do you think he can have a long career now since he has the ability to extend it?

A lot of people fall into that trap and I did the same thing too. I ran 3:40 when I was training for 800 and I thought that I might as well step up, and then went backwards from there. But we've always focused on long term development and taking off little chunks in the 800 each year. Look at a guy like Khadevis Robison and it's surprising he had such a long career, but he ran his PB of 1:43 when he was 30. So I look at the visual progression, and don’t focus too much on times. The focus should be on winning medals at major championships and being consistent, but I’d love for him to run a real fast 800 before his career finishes.

So speaking of major championships, obviously there was some disappointment in your camp dealing with the UK selection policy during the World Indoor Championships. For you as a coach, how do you manage that from the mental side? Guy Learmonth seemed to be coming on at the right time and yet didn’t have the opportunity to compete at a home championship.

It was really disappointing because last year, Guy and I decided that it would be his last indoor season because he's getting a little bit older, turning 32 this month. We wanted to focus on outdoors, but then it was announced that Glasgow was going to host so naturally – that's the track he has used all his life to train during the winter – we focused on that. 

We found out he had Covid at the Trials and he lost that by one hundredth of a second. And I feel like had he won then he would have got the automatic selection. But when you don't do that or have the standard then you leave yourself to the discretion of the selectors. And unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of the selection policy this year

How tough is that to deal with as a coach? Because ultimately your job is to get these guys to run as quickly as possible. But then occasionally there are these things that are out of your control beyond training itself. Where do you see a coach fit into that? 

I take on a lot of the blame when things don't go right. 

It’s tough when an athlete gets sick, but there were things there we were doing in training leading up to a race a month before the trials where we targeted to run the standard. I think we got the training a little bit wrong, leading in that he was a bit flat and ran 1:46.8, but we were hoping for 1:46-low. 

So I am open with the athletes and say, “well, I made a mistake.” I try not to put the full blame on them because at the end of the day, they’re doing what they’re told in training and if it doesn’t work that’s my fault, not theirs.

That's often a sign of a great coach is the ability to fall on that sword. But how do you do that without having them lose belief in you? Because if that happens too often, then it's like every time something goes wrong you are taking the blame for it. So how do you strike that balance?

I lean back on my track record of athletes running well at the right time of the year. Pete at the Olympics in 2021, ran a national record in the heats and then came in fourth in the final. Jeff Risley, who was another one of my athletes, was sort of out of his career and then four weeks before the Olympics ran 1:44.7, which was his fastest time in nine years and then went on to make an Olympic semi-final. In my training group, we might make a mistake here or there, but 99% of the time we run well when we need to.

The 800 has to be the hardest event to really peak properly for – not sure if you agree since you have it down better than me! With the balance of speed and strength that’s necessary, it's not as easy to just build a pyramid with a huge base and just periodize it out, backing off the last couple of weeks, right? It's a bit more nuanced. So what makes a good 800 runner peak at the right time? (I know it’s a loaded question!)

Yeah, it is. I spent a lot of time looking at how many races Marco Arop ran before he won the World Champs and what he did differently that year vs. 2021, when I thought he was in equally good shape. I tend to look back at that and then mirror it up with what I see my athletes doing. There was an old thought that you'd run your best 800 on your eighth one. I see a lot of athletes take at least four weeks off of racing before the major championship. 

So most of the medalists have at least a three to four week gap between their last race and the World Champs. So what can we do in that last four weeks before the major championships to make sure we don't get those things wrong? I think that's where a lot of athletes either overcook it and push way too hard, or they continue racing and only have a two week rest and are cooked again. 

Is that being done with too much distance or is it that they are running too hard? In an 800 meter program, you can always take a little extra time between reps and keep doing more if you keep cutting 100m off the ladder. So how’s the overcooking happening?

One of the benefits I have is because we focus on speed all year round, we're not trying to cram it in the month before a major championship thinking, “oh, damn – we've got to get really quick down the next four weeks!” So my guys are always confident in their ability to run fast and run close to their personal best 200 all year round. We just have to make sure we keep continuing to tick the boxes off. We reduce volume slightly and we don't do anything really hard ten days out from the heats. 

That touches on a misunderstanding many athletes have about middle distance peaking. They see it as this opportunity to cut mileage and focus on getting really fast. In reality, a good program is more about dialing in that specific endurance work and getting comfortable at that specific pace. 

Yeah, exactly. We don't do a lot of those typical hard 800m workouts that I used to do as an athlete, like 5 x 300 with four minutes rest where I’d averaged 37. But my coach made me do that probably six or seven times in a season. My guys only really do four hard workouts in a period. Typically we do two during the Australian season and then another four during the European season. So it’s really only six for the whole year. Whereas back in my day I would have done six of those in three weeks.

800 guys also love ripping a really hard 600 and pretending that they're going to be able to find that last 200 come race day – that's the classic formula. Is there a workout that’s your go-to in the beginning of the season? It seems like you love the hills and threshold.

I think hills are underrated. We typically do hills in a base period before the Australian season and then go back to it before the European season. You can mirror a track session or track workout on the hills. If you did 10 x 200 with a jog back recovery, that's the same as doing 10 x 200 on the track in my book. We make sure they're not too steep, so the athletes aren’t running with ridiculous form. And then the tempo stuff we do year round. Before Pete ran that 1:44.0 in Paris a few years ago, he did 4 x mile seven days before.

That's probably a surprise for some people, that it’s such a constant throughout. Are you one to ever do post-race workouts? That's an opportunity to grab an extra few miles of threshold.

We've tried a few times. I remember watching you in 2018 after you raced that 1500 in Brisbane and you guys are doing a post-workout on the main track afterwards. And I remember thinking that I need to add this in, but I haven't done a lot of it. My guys don't do a lot of mileage. Sometimes I feel like people do those workouts to make up for stuff missed during the week and we just don't back off too much before races. That said, the Hoeys did do 16 x 1 minute with 30s rest after the race so I am trying it, but I'm not 100% certain just yet.

So I asked Mark Coogan this question and now I'll ask you. If you had to design a program for 800 meter runners year round, but you can only do three workouts. What would those three workouts be?

That’s easy. I would do a speed workout on Monday: 4 - 5x 50m + 4 x 120m w/ 80m walk plus sprint drills and hurdles. The next one would be 10 x 200 hills w/ jog back recovery, alternating one easy and one hard. And then on that Saturday we would do a threshold workout 4 x mile w/ 2 mins rest.

I reckon if you did that year round, you would probably run a pretty good 800.

Would you have to race yourself into shape a little bit? 

I had Alex Rowe basically off that program run 1:45 and we did hills that Thursday before the Saturday race. You can still run fast off that. 

No secret sauce.

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • Here is the relevant 4 × 100 race video that had the Gainesville boys excited as their rival team composed of Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles did not get the stick all the way around.

  • Quincy Wilson opened up his outdoor season with a win at the Florida Relays and a new personal best of 45.19, which is an Olympic Trials qualifier. It hit me this week that my two-year-old daughter is closer in age to the 16-year-old superstar than I am and damn… I wasn’t expecting to reflect on my own mortality while writing a track & field newsletter…

  • Fellow sophomore – Wilson’s fellow sophomore, not mine – Elizabeth Leechman won the 5000m at the Texas Relays in a largely solo effort, running 15:25.27 to set a new high school national record. I don’t care if she was on roller blades!

  • Gabby Thomas was the big winner in Austin, winning the 100m in 10.88 (+2.2), and the 200m in 22.08 (+1.2). She says she’s ready to run with the heavy hitters in her “off” event. (Full Results)

  • U20 World Cross winner Marta Alemayo of Ethiopia made her international debut and thrived at just 15 years old. Samuel Kibathi won the sprints finish to win the men’s race and lead Kenya to the team title.

  • The world’s best ‘A’ skipper, Chari Hawkins, has signed a contract with Brooks. In addition to having a top-notch Instagram, she just finished seventh at the World Indoor Pentathlon.

  • Carmela Cardama Báez has announced that she is no longer on the OAC. The NCAA 2021 10,000m champion from Spain remains with On.

  • Texas A&M’s Sam Whitmarsh hit the Olympic standard, winning the 800 at LSU in 1:44.46 – that required him dropping his personal best by 1.5 seconds. Watch this dude run and tell me he’s not going to make the team.

  • Read this fantastic profile on the defending Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs. It gets into his setup and mindset heading into the Olympic year.

  • Jamaica ran the gauntlet at the CARIFTA Games in Grenada, winning 84 medals, but the one that got the crowd most excited was Nickecoy Bramwell’s 400m, which broke Usain Bolt’s record from 2002. (Podium Results)

  • Other Results: Raleigh Relays | Stanford Invitational

  • You know I love my running stats and believe it’s something we should lean into more, so sharing this petition to support those who want the Parkrun series to bring back the stats!

  • VOTE: Citius Mag was nominated for a Webby Award for our Website and Mobile Sites.

Thank you to On for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! I know Penn Relays is near when my allergies start acting up and it’s almost time. Expect some fun content coming from the OAC soon…

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