The 1600 meter run is a staple track event for distance runners at the high school and collegiate level in the United States. The distance, about a mile, is designed to accommodate runners whose forte is longer events. Though they have Cross Country as a separate, distance-running season, the 1600 gives these runners something to do the rest of the year. The event is also infinitely preferable to the dreaded 3200 meter run, which is considered by most runners to be incredibly long, boring, and unnecessarily painful. We distance runners try to throw in our lot with the 1600.
How to Run the 1600
(Note: This advice is for a standard 400 meter track shaped like an elongated oval with straightened middles like a stretched-out rubber band. A race on this track begins at the curve and takes four laps to complete. Indoor tracks are usually only 200 meter tracks; therefore, a 1600 takes eight laps on them. Convert lap numbers as needed.)
While there is no set way to run that guarantees a successful race, the following advice (given lap-by-lap below) has proved helpful to me and seems to be what a majority of the distance runners I know do:
- The first lap is the most important lap of the race. When the gun goes off, be ready to move. You'll hit the first turn immediately after beginning; try to stay in the outside lanes. Then, about halfway into the curve start cutting in. Placement is essential here. If you don't start up near the front of the race, it will be almost impossible for you to catch up later. For the rest of this lap, try to get yourself in a good position for the duration of the race. Run fast, but keep in mind that there is still a majority of the race left to run.
- The second lap is the time to take a little bit of a break. You should find a person that runs about your speed and use him/her to pace off of. Just stare at his/her shoulder the entire time and imagine an imaginary fishing hook attached to it. If the shoulder moves away, reel it in by running to catch up. (I know it sounds corny, but it works!) Be careful not to become too dependant on your shoulder-helper and forget the larger race, though. If you begin falling behind the front group or feel you can go much faster that your pace-ee, speed up. Again, the trick here is to conserve energy for use later on in the race.
- The third lap is when things start getting dicey. It's now time to use some of that energy you've been holding in reserve. Start passing people, with an eye towards moving to the top spot; leave your shoulder-buddy behind if necessary. If you do happen to be in slot number two, don't try to take first just yet; use the first place person to pace off of. While you should definitely begin to feel tired right now, you should still be controlled and have a small reserve left.
- In this final lap, you should put the pedal to the medal. Keep reminding yourself that the race is almost over, because this lap hurts. Stay with the person you ended up with on lap three until about a quarter into this lap. Then start speeding up. At the final 200, accelerate to an all-out sprint; your legs should feel disconnected from your body at this point (I'm not joking). If you're pacing the number one guy, don't attempt to pass until the last 200. When you enter that last turn, run as if your life depended upon it. Whether in first or in last, you should feel dead tired at the end of this race. But, look at the bright side, the sprinters should be in awe of you!
What to do After the Race
Though most people think that a race ends when you cross the finish line, it doesn't. You can get yourself incredibly sick if you don't take care of yourself, especially in a long race like the 1600. When you cross the line, you should be totally exhausted, every ounce of energy spent. But, as much as you may want to sit down, DON'T. If you do, lactic acid will build up in your muscles and you will be reduced to a heaving mess. Instead, walk around until you get your breath back; have someone physically force you to walk if necessary.
When you do begin breathing normally (it should take a good five to ten minutes), get some water or Gatorade to drink. You need to replace some of the fluids your body lost in sweat and cool yourself off. After you do this, you may want to eat something rich in complex carbohydrates, such as trail mix. It restores your body's sugar supply and fills your stomach; simple carbohydrates will give you a sugar rush, which you don't need right now. Then, about 30 minutes after the race, try to run a cool down jog. It should only be about 800 meters and can even be taken at a snail's pace; you just need to keep your muscles from cramping. And, most importantly, feel some pride in your accomplishment. You completed an event that most track runners are loathe to run. Congratulations!