Frank Horwill



  • These articles were first published many year's ago and whilst some are as relevant today as they were when new, many are now mostly of historical interest as modern research and coaching methods have superseded them.

Planning Your Track Season

By Frank Horwill

  1. Aim for a target time or championship goal.
  2. The target time or championship goal must be achievable.
  3. The target or goal must be challenging.
  4. Decide what amount and quality of work is required to reach your goal.
  5. Plan out the necessary number of under-distance and over-distance races required to peak at the right time.
  6. Discuss with your coach the tactic be used in each build-up race.

Some athletes may have solely a time target in mind. For example, a female with a time of 2mins 3secs for 800m, may have a burning desire to crack 2 mins and once achieved the rest of the season is an anti-climax. Other athletes may wish to win or get placed in one of the many championships at hand (County Area, National, Commonwealth etc). To do this, they must estimate the possible winning time and train accordingly.

Pie-in-the-sky ambitions should be expunged from the mind. We have to be realistic. There is not much point in talking about wanting to run a sub-4 mile if you haven’t yet run under 4mins for 1,500m. The ultimate goal is a long-term plan, you need to concentrate on the now.

In deciding whether your goal is challenging or not, some statistics are worth studying. For example, Sebastian Coe at 15 years of age, had best times of 4mins 25secs for 1,500m and 2mins 13secs for 800m. Exactly 10 years later his times were 3:31.95 and 1:41.73. That works out at 5.4secs average improvement per year for the 1,500m and 3.2 secs annual improvement in the 800m event. It should also be noted that the average peak age for peak times is around the age 25 years. This does not preclude faster times being done before or after that age; however, it is a strong indicator.

In working out what training is required, there are several factors to consider:

a. The amount of time available for training and the amount of actual training you wish to do.

b. The physiological indications of the event. Here, there are several choices: 1) Using A.V. Hill’s aerobic/anaerobic table. 2) Using Matthews’s and Fox’s energy pathway requirements. 3) Using empirical methods. Hill stated that the 1,500m event is half aerobic and half anaerobic. We have to understand what is meant by those terms. Also, we have to be clear in our minds that there are several predominantly aerobic speeds where the majority of the oxygen needed can be breathed in. For example, running at 3K speed, about 4secs per lap slower than in the 1,500m is 60 per cent aerobic. We must also understand that anaerobic running involves a wide range of speeds and includes: 200m (95 per cent), 800m (67 per cent) and 1,500m (50 per cent).

There are those who question Hill’s findings, stating that the aerobic requirements is grossly under-estimated. Until they receive a Nobel Prize, as Hill did for his findings, we must assume that he knew better!

Fox and Matthews sub-divided Hill’s two main categories (aerobic/anaerobic) and stated that the 800m event was 65 per cent LA-O2, 30 per cent ATP-PC and 5 per cent O2. These abbreviations simply mean lactic acid/oxygen (LA- O2), adenosine triphosphate and phosphocreatine and lactic acid (ATP-PC and LA) and O2 is oxygen usage (aerobic). All these energy pathways are duration-related: for example, if we sprint 100m, for the first 4secs, we use ATP; if we continue to 200m, we use ATP + PC; and if we plug away to 400m, we use ATP + muscle glycogen; if we stagger on for another 80secs, we are running anaerobically, building up lactic acid and relying on muscle glycogen to keep us going. We must eventually slow down after 2mins still relying on muscle glycogen, after 4mins we slow still further and keep going because we use more oxygen and start burning fatty acids as well as muscle glycogen.

Given ten training sessions over a course of 14 days using Hill’s table for the 1,500m, we could allocate five sessions to aerobic work and five to anaerobic efforts to look like this:-

Day 1 – Aerobic (99 per cent) – Run steady for 1 hour.

Day 2 – Anaerobic (67 per cent) – Run 4 x 400m at target 800m speed with 3mins rest.

Day 3 – Aerobic (90 per cent) – Run 10k fast.

Day 4 – Anaerobic (95 per cent) – Run 8 x 200m full out with 200m walk back recovery.

Day 5 – Aerobic (60 per cent) – Run 45mins fartlek as follows: 10mins jog, then 3mins fast runs at 3k speed with 1.5mins jog recovery x 6.

Day 6 - rest

Day 7 – Anaerobic (83 per cent) – 1 x 350, 2 x 300, 3 x 250. All full out with 400m walk recovery after each.

Day 8 – Aerobic (80 per cent) – 4 x 1,600m at estimated 5k speed with 200m jog recovery. To estimate 5k speed add 8secs per 400m to best 1,500m time per 400m. Example – best 1,500m = 4mins = 64secs = 72secs/400m on this session.

Day 9 – Anaerobic (50 per cent) – 8 x 400m at best 1,500m speed starting with 90secs rest and decreasing by 15secs rest after each rep. After rep done after only 15secs rest, return to 90secs etc.

Day 10 – Aerobic (99 per cent) – Run steady for 1 hour.

Day 11 – Anaerobic (100 per cent) – Run 8 x 100m full out with walk back recovery.

Day 12 – Start cycle again.

Using the Fox and Matthews method of working the energy pathways involved in the 800m, it could look like this:-

Day 1 – 02 – Run steady for 1 hour.

Day 2 – ATP-PC-LA – 24 x 100m sprints in sets of 8 (3 x 8) with three times the time of the rep as rest, e.g. 100m in 12secs, 36secs rest. After each set walk 400m.

Day 3 – LA-02 – 5 x 600m fast with twice the time of rep as recovery, e.g. rep in 90secs, recovery 3mins.

Day 4 - LA-02 – 4 x 800m fast in sets of 2 (2 x 2). Take the same time of the rep as recovery, e.g. 2mins 10secs rep, 2mins 10secs rest. Rest after second rep.

Day 5 – ATP-PC-LA – 50 x 50m sprints in sets of 10 (5 x 10 x 50) with treble time of rep as recovery. Walk 400m after each set.

Day 6 – rest

Day 7 – LA-02 – Repeat Day 3

Day 8 - LA-02 – Repeat Day 4

Day 9 – ATP-PC-LA – Repeat Day 5

Day 10 - LA-02 – Repeat Day 3

Day 11 – Start cycle again

Using a common sense or empirical approach to training for the 5,000m event, there are some essential factors to consider:-

1. Familiarisation with the target pace per 400m.

2. Improving speed at lesser distances, i.e. 3k and 1,500m.

3. Establishing good endurance from fast 10k running and slower 20k running.

With these three in mind a schedule could look like this:-

Day 1 – Fast endurance – Run 10k near to maximum speed.

Day 2 – Pace familiarisation – Run for 3 minute spells at target pace 5k with 1 minute recovery x 6. A target of 15mins=72/400, run for 3mins at 72secs/400 = 1k distance.

Day 3 – Slow endurance – Run 20k 30secs slower per 400m than best 1,500m time per 400m, e.g. best 1,500m = 4mins = 64secs = 94secs/400= 6mins 16secs per mile on this run.

Day 4 – Speed work – Run 4 x 800m at best 1,500m speed with 3mins recovery.

Day 5 – Fast endurance – run 10k near to maximum speed.

Day 6 – rest

Day 7 – Relative speed work – 3 x 1,500m at best 3k speed with 3mins recovery.

Day 8 – Slow endurance – Run 20k

Day 9 – Pace familiarisation – Run for 5 minute spells at target 5k pace with 2mins recovery. A target of 14mins = 67/400 = 1,800m distance x 4.

Day 10 – Fast endurance – Run 10k fast

Day 11 – Speed work – 5 x 600m at best 1,500m speed with 2mins rest.

Day 12 – rest

Day 13 – Start cycle again

In planning your races for the season it is a good idea to work backwards from the goal you hope to reach. This is important because peak performances are not always required at the same time each year, with some exceptions, for example, BUSF and English Schools championships. Athletes should study their race diaries and discover at what time over the past two years they ran their best race. They should also study their performances in non specialist distances. Here, the BMC has some average statistics. Your best 800m, 1,500m, 3km and 5km, is most likely to occur from the fifth to seventh race at those distances. This assertion is the same for under-distance races, this ideally could mean for an 800m specialist – 5–7 x 400m races + 5–7 x 800m races. Also, the average figure for over-distance races which accompany peak performances is three. This indicates that an 800m specialist should also race three times at 1,500m and that a 1,500m runner should consider racing 3km or 5km, and a 5km runner three outings at 10km or further.

Now, if we accept BMC statistics, there is not much point in rattling off five to seven races in as many weeks at the beginning of the season as the likelihood of performing well later will recede. That said, every athlete is an individual and if you peak after your tenth race at your specialist distance, so be it!

There is also the question of how you treat all build-up races. In his early days, Coe spent a whole season running all his races from the front in order to see if he ran better that way and also to experience it should he be forced to do so. Every race should have a point to it. The obvious one is to win it! A secondary one is to win in a good time. A third is to experiment, for example, increasing speed for the third lap of a 1,500m race or the third 200m of an 800m is not a popular tactic with the opposition! If you lack finishing power this may be something you have to work on. A powerful finisher must rely on keeping in touch and keeping in contact requires good endurance and training should reflect this. Using different tactics also confuses the opposition, it is difficult for them to fathom out your next move. Avoid being an open-book.

The track season is a culmination of what has occurred in the winter. Some coaches place great importance on physiological monitoring every 3 months. These tests are simple to do and reveal much. You may consider having your endurance assessed before the track season, to do this, choose a windless day and see how far you can run around the track in 15 minutes. A good male club runner should be able to run 5,000m (, a good female club runner should achieve 4,600m ( If these figures are way beyond you, it would be wise to shift the emphasis in training to correct this weakness. The test for pure speed is a 40 yards (36.6m) sprint from a standing start. At least three attempts should be tried. Females should attempt to get well under 6secs and males well under 5secs. Times achieved on this test reveal the 400m potential using this formula – Time run x 10 + 2secs = Male 400m potential. Time run x 10 + 3secs = Female 400m potential. Failure to get under 6 or 5 seconds respectively indicates that most probably leg-strength is poor and or regular sprint-work is not being done.

Attention to detail is important in the track season. Here is an example: In 1984, Tim Hutchings qualified to run the 5km in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He was not expected to make the final because he had not broken 13mins 20secs. A 50-year Metereological Report with average readings for the weather most likely to occur in Los Angeles showed that smog would be bad up to midday, and that the temperature would be around 100F/38C. He was advised to take daily 5mg vitamin A 14 days before departure and also while there. This vitamin is specific for the health of the trachea membranes which are affected by smog. Because the perspiration loss would be excessive, he would lose minerals rapidly, in particular, potassium which has a direct affect on the heart, severe shortages cause heart failure, he was therefore advised to drink copious amounts of pure orange juice which is a major source of potassium.

Hutchings qualified for the final while some illustrious names failed to make it - for example, John Walker dropped out of his semi-final. In the final, Hutchings lowered his 5km time to 13mins 11secs, an improvement of 10 secs, the greatest improvement by a British athlete in an Olympic 5km final. He ran the last mile in 4mins 6secs (the average mile time for 13:11 is 4mins 14secs). However, one noted 1,500m runner dropped out of his final and collapsed, taken to hospital tests showed that he had heart failure due to excessive potassium loss.

Some tips for the track season:-

  1. Eat every 4 hours meals which contain fruit, vegetables, skimmed milk, fish, lean meat, bread and rice. Physical output will be increased by this routine.
  2. Avoid excessive consumption of cola drinks: the phosphorous in them destroys calcium and makes bone and teeth fragile.
  3. Drink plenty of pure orange juice when the temperature gets above 60F/15C.
  4. Do not rely on thirst as an indication of the body requiring water when the temperature is above that stated in (3), drink one pint of water morning and night as a matter of routine in such conditions. Tea and coffee take fluid from the body.
  5. In weather where the temperature is above 70F/32C, you may consider shortening your warm-up from 10mins to 5mins. Recent research from Australia has shown that marathoners who have a cold bath/shower when racing conditions are hot run much better because the maximum body temperature of 104F is delayed during the race.
  6. Get in the habit of taking carbohydrates in fluid form within 30mins of finishing training or racing. The best way to do this is to purchase a carbo-loader (polymer). Glycogen is preferentially stored in the first 2 hours after exercise.
  7. Watch your weight for two reasons: a) A steady loss of weight daily indicates either dehydration and or stress. b) Increases in weight denote that the consumption of saturated fatty foods is excessive. Training in the morning will raise the metabolic rate for several hours which means more calories will be burnt even when sitting down.
  8. A simple plan before a race, if conditions are good, is to calculate what pace per lap will give you a personal best. The advantage of this is you only have yourself to worry about! If your best time for 800m is 1:52, you work out that to run 1:50, each 200m must be run in 27.5secs and ignore what others are doing. Level-pace running means increased effort every 200m.