So, you've chosen to learn about the sport of middle distance racing in track and field. Fantastic choice! It's a fundamental cornerstone of modern day foot racing that strikes a truly unique balance between sprint speed and long distance endurance.
Before we dive into the various events of the middle distance, take a look at the picture of the track below. This is the surface on which all the middle distance events in track and field take place. The track is where the sprints are held as well.
We'll start off by examining the three events that make up the category of middle distance racing. Next, we'll look at the dimensions and the lines of the track, the surface upon which the middle distance races take place. Finally, we'll delve into the boundaries and the rules associated with each of the three middle distance events.
There are three main events for middle distance racing in track and field:
1. The 800 m
2. The 1500 m
3. The mile
The 800 m is the shortest middle distance race held at the international level. It consists of two laps around the track, and demands intense levels of both anaerobic speed and aerobic endurance. It's no surprise that it has been an integral part of the Olympics since the first games in 1896.
The 1500 m is the second shortest middle distance race held at the international level. Compared to the 800 m race, the 1500 m places a slightly higher emphasis on aerobic endurance and a slightly lower demand on anaerobic speed.
The mile, at exactly 1609.344 m, is the longest middle distance race in track and field, and requires much more aerobic endurance than either the 800 m or the 1500 m. The mile run is believed to have originated from England, where it was a popular distance in gambling races, and is the sole survivor of track and field's switch from the imperial to the metric system in the 1900's.
Like the 200 m and the 400 m sprints, the 800 m race features a staggered start, in which the start lines in each lane are progressively moved further up, beginning with the lane closest to the field. This is to account for the oval geometry of the track, which causes the diameter of the outer lanes to be greater than the diameter of the inner lanes. Having a stagger start ensures that all competitors in the race are running the same distance around the curved oval track.
The 1500 m and the mile run use a waterfall start line, which places all the competitors at the same continuous curved start line.
However, when there is an overflow of runners (typically more than 12), the 1500 m and the mile run will use a barrel start, or a dual alley start. This is a type of race start positioning that places the highest-ranked competitors at the traditional waterfall start line, and the lowest-ranked competitors at the barrel.
The barrel is the curved start line located at the start of the one-turn stagger mark. It only spans across the lanes in the outermost half of the track, and is used solely by the lowest-ranked competitors in the case of a barrel start.
The break line is the continuous curved line located at the first bend of the track (in reference to the 800 m staggered start line). This line indicates when the competitors of the barrel start or the 800 m staggered start can begin running in lanes other than their pre-assigned ones.
To help the competitors identify the breakline correctly, small brightly-colored cones or prisms are often placed on each lane line immediately before their intersection with the break line.
All foot racing events in track and field use the same finish line.
The standard athletic track is divided into 6 to 8 lanes, each of which is 1.22 m 0.01 m wide.
In the beginning of the 800 m, every competitor is assigned to a specific lane in which he or she must stay in until the break line. Crossing over into another competitor's lane before the break line will result in immediate disqualification.
Note that races of 1500 m or greater are not run in lanes.
The 1.22m-wide division of the track closest to the field is called the inside lane.
The 1.22m-wide division of the track furthest from the field is called the outside lane.
For the 800 m, the lanes are assigned to the sprinters in a series of three draws.
1. The four highest-ranked athletes participate in a draw for lanes 3, 4, 5, and 6.
2. The fifth and sixth highest-ranked athletes participate in a draw for lanes 7 and 8.
3. The two lowest-ranked athletes participate in a draw for lanes 1 and 2.
Unlike the 800 m, the 1500 m and the mile run are run entirely without lanes. However, competitors of the 1500 m and the mile are assigned a specific order in which they line up in front of the waterfall start line. This order is selected by drawing lots between all competitors.
(1) Races of 400 m or less are run entirely in lanes. (2) Races of 800 m are run in lanes until the break line. (3) Races of 1500 m or greater are run without lanes.
This is defined as staying within the boundaries of the lane lines, and applies to all parts of the competitor's body and clothing.
Every competitor in the 800 m race is assigned to a specific lane in which he or she must remain in until the break line. An 800 m athlete who simply steps on the white lane line prior to the break line is considered as having left his lane, and will therefore be automatically disqualified. Obstructing or crossing over into another competitor's lane before the break line is considered a serious offence, and will also result in immediate disqualification.
After the break line, the 800 m athletes are free to run in whichever lane they prefer. They are also allowed to change lanes at any point in the race, as many times as they wish. However, a competitor who deliberately obstructs another runner's path, or interferes in any way, will immediately be disqualified.
Unlike the 800 m, the 1500 m and the mile races are run entirely without lanes. Once the competitors cross the start line, they are free to run in whichever lane they prefer. They are also allowed to change lanes at any point in the race, as many times as they wish. However, a competitor who deliberately obstructs another runner's path, or interferes in any way, will immediately be disqualified.
Running in a position as close as possible to the field (ideally the inside of Lane 1), while still having enough room to pass slower competitors, is considered highly advantageous in all three middle distance events. This matters especially in the 1500 m and the mile races, which do not feature a stagger start. It is therefore imperative that a competitor quickly moves into a position as close as possible to the field, as the oval geometry of the track causes the diameter of the outer lanes to be greater than the diameter of the inner lanes. Thus, a runner who unwisely chooses to remain in an outer lane for the entirety of the race will be running a significantly longer race than someone who runs the race in a position as close as possible to the field.
There are three popular racing strategies used in the middle distance:
1. The Even Split
2. The Positive Split
3. The Negative Split
In the even split, the entirety of the race is run at a steady speed and pace.
In the positive split, the first half of the race is run at a faster pace than the second half. According to a study of 26 world-record 800 m races from 1912 to 1997, 92% had been achieved using the positive split strategy.
In the negative split, the second half of the race is run at a faster pace than the first half.
The sit and kick, or the sprint finish, is a strategy featured prominently in races of a mile or longer. Here, the competitor accelerates towards maximum speed during the final stages of the race. Note that the kick, or the finishing kick, refers to the sudden burst of speed itself.
The bell lap is the final lap of a race, and is so termed because a bell is commonly rung as soon as a competitor begins the last lap.
The photo finish judge is the official responsible for determining the winner of a foot racing event, commonly by examining the photo finish.