800m Debate: Endurance vs. Speed

The Debate

A couple of years ago, there was a debate circulating on the Milesplit Network...

What matters more for the 800m: 400m Speed or 1600m Endurance?

The traditional wisdom around the 800m run is it is a "distance race." For the most part, I won't disagree with that categorization. If you took an average high school sprinter who typically races 400m and below and match them up in an 800m race with an average high school distance runner who typically races 1600m and above, more times than not... the distance runner will win that match up. He may only run 2:10... but I would bet on the distance runner in that scenario.

In Tennessee, I will not argue that schools who regularly qualify for the State Meet in Cross Country in the fall have success in the half mile in the spring. Most of this is a byproduct of volume and race distribution however. At a typical high school track meet, there are 3 open sprint events, 3 sprint relays, and two hurdle events; Essentially 27 slots that one could place a sprinter. On the distance side, there are 13. Larger Cross Country programs that roster 25+ runners per gender that all continue racing in the spring are going to have a hard time giving up 800m slots to traditional sprinters when over half their roster isn't racing. Not to mention, coaches have a hard enough convincing sprinters to run the 400... now you're going to ask them to run the 800? Good luck.

/Whitehaven has entered the chat/

At a school like Whitehaven where there is no shortage of sprinters but a large shortage of distance runners, you see results like this:

Even though Middle and East Tennessee are fixtures on the podium at Steeplechase, Memphis area runners performing well in the 800m distance shouldn't surprise anyone. For the two-lap race, they make up half of the All-Time Top 10 List. The most recent performances in the top 20 are Houston's Colin and Keaton Jones whose personal bests from 2018 rank 8th and 15th respectively.

Here's their race from the 2018 Vanderbilt High School Indoor Invitational where they went 1-2.