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16 August 2004

How can I learn to be a middle-distance athlete?

If you have always been quite fast and agile with endurance capabilities and have a lean, muscular build, you may be a good middle-distance runner.

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If you have always been quite fast and agile with endurance capabilities and have a lean, muscular build, you may be a good middle-distance runner. These abilities probably imply that you have enough fast-twitching muscle fibres for speed bursts when needed, while you can enhance your endurance with cardiovascular training.

The ideal body type:
A lean, muscular mesomorph build with strong legs.

Physical requirements:
A middle-distance athlete must have a certain minimum percentage of white, fast-twitching muscle fibre for speed bursts when needed, extremely strong core muscles for good balance and posture, a good sense of rhythm and good lung capacity. Who should opt for another sport: If you are very muscular, bulky, overweight, very slow or have a very limited lung capacity, rather opt for another sport.

Type of exercise needed:
Speed drills, plyometric exercises like bounds for the hurdlers, resistance training for strenghtening the muscles of your legs and arms, but most importantly, of you stomach, trunk and back, and endurance training to improve fitness levels. You need to start running or cycling at least three times a week to improve your cardiovascular fitness, and include fartlek runs and speed drills.

Tip:
Try learning to accelerate through the bends in the 400m race, where you’re required to stay in your lane as you run. Turning is something a lot of runners find slows them down, but former European 400m champion Duáine Thorne-Ladejo told the BBC it’s often where he overtakes other runners. He said the mistake many runners make is to look across the bend, which pulls them out of the curve of the track. Correcting that means slowing down. But he found that looking about two metres in front of him and placing his feet slightly to the left each time he took a pace helped him maintain speed and stay in his lane. He leaned into the curve, too. It worked – he has the medals to prove it.

 
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