Dear Distance Gurus: What Are Your 3 Favorite 800 Workouts? has launched a new coaching advice column. In column #3, John Kellogg and Robert Johnson share some of their favorite 800 workouts

In the year 2024, there are all sorts of advice columns all over the internet, but we’ve never seen one for distance running. That is now changing. Back when started in 2000, John Kellogg‘s near-daily message board postings on training were a hallmark of the site, but he’s gone dark from the web for 20+ years. That’s changing too.

When you coach, remember to have some fun. Wejo once showed up to one of the Cornell meets dressed at the Burger King man. Next to him is John Kellogg and on the right is Rojo.

Hopefully each week, John and co-founder Robert Johnson will be answering your questions in our “Dear Distance Gurus” column. John is most famous for transforming Weldon Johnson from a college hack with a 30:06 10,000 PR to a near-Olympian who ran 28:06 and finished 4th at USAs twice. Robert and John then used John’s training methods to win zero Ivy League XC titles totally dominate the Ivy League in indoor and outdoor track during a 10-year coaching stint at Cornell University where they captured 13 Ivy League track titles.

Now that the statute of limitations from their Cornell tenure is over as almost everyone they coached is retired, they will be handing out their advice on LRC. If you have a question for a future column, email it to

Dear Distance Gurus (DDG): Kyle Merber recently asked top 800 coach Justin Rinaldi if he could only give out 3 800 workouts, what would they be? He didn’t hesitate and said:

Workout 1

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4-5x50m + 4×120/80 +drills & hurdles

Workout 2

10x200m hills jog back recovery alternating 1500/800m pace

Workout 3

4×1 mile threshold w/2min rest

There was a big discussion of it on the forum: Justin Rinaldi says that if you could do only 3 workouts for the 800m you should do these.

What do you think of that and what are your favorite 800 workouts?

Rojo: We of course love the workouts cited by any messageboard poster like Justin Rinaldi (username JRinaldi, join our Supporters Club to see all of his posts or be notified whenever he posts). Kidding. But Justin — who coaches Peter Bol and Will Sumner, among others — is clearly a top 800 coach.

What I want to do is give you three of our favorite types of 800 workouts.

#1 Oxygen uptake 200s 

15 x 200 @ roughly mile pace (start slower, ending a little faster) with a 100-meter jog rest in the same time (half speed) + some light speed work.

At Cornell, a hallmark of our 800 work was these oxygen uptake 200s. I loved this workout because it was one I could hop in and do with the guys even if I was out of shape (maybe not all of them) and then talk sh** to them the rest of the year about how 800 guys have really poor endurance (although they were obviously way way way faster than I ever was).

I just went back and looked at some of my emails and we actually did different amounts at different times of year, depending on the pace. When we ran near mile pace (a lot of these guys were ~4:08 milers but were middle distance guys and not cross-country types), we often did 10-12. If we were going slower, we’d do more.

 One email we sent says: 

 15-20 x 200 @ 35 —> 30 (reps 5-12 in lane 1)* / 100 jog @ 30 between each, 3 min. break after last rep, 6 x 10-15 secs. progressively faster buildups (last 2 very fast), cool-down jog

* (This was on our flat indoor track, where we’d do almost everything in lane 7 to avoid doing tons of work on the tight turns, but every so often we’d get a little practice in lane 1 for development purposes and familiarity)

Another says: 

10-12 x 200 @ 32 —> 29 / 100 jog @ 30 between each, 3 min. break after last rep, 8 x 10-15 secs. progressively faster buildups, cool-down jog

A third says: 

10 x 200 @ 33 —> 30 / 100 jog @ 30 between each, 4 min. walk/jog, 3-4 short strides, 6 x 150 @ 21 -> 18 / 2 min. rest periods

JK: These things are excellent oxygen uptake work for your 800/1,000 types who aren’t quite as good as the race distance goes up. We like O2 uptake stuff even for the 800 because improving the strength of your ventricle (ergo getting a larger stroke volume) always helps in any race which involves a significant aerobic energy contribution.

Side note: Our O2 uptake workout for the mile (see previous post) of 2 min. on / 2 min. off at near race pace should of course be run (at least started) at a somewhat slower speed the faster you are. It would be too much to ask of a 4:00 miler to run 5 x 880y in 2:00 with only 2 min. rest, for example. 63-64 400 pace for 750-ish meters might be more doable. Even if you don’t exactly reinforce mile pace with this, the point is working to improve O2 uptake, and you can always tack on those faster 150s at the end.

#2 Classical 800 anaerobic endurance / race pace sessions

Option #1: 4 x 400 at race pace with 4-5 minutes rest (most of it walking) between reps

The problem with this workout is often the guys will run too fast on the first one as they are used to going out fast in an 800 and then they will be DEAD on the last one. Trying to get a correct sense of pace is important. But to be honest, it doesn’t matter if they are rigging and blowing up at 300 on the last one and not even finishing. Tying up is kind of the point, although a huge slowdown is not ideal for reinforcing the best recruitment pattern (or for subsequent recovery). Ideally, you’d nail it and be going to the well at the end of the last one still on pace, but it’s hard to pull off correctly. One time we had a 1:50 guy run 57 on his last 400 after we let him have 6 minutes rest before attempting it … but he did screw the pooch by running 51.8 on his first one (see the first sentence in this paragraph and be forewarned).

Option #2 500-300-500-200 at RP 

Warmup jog, drills/strides, 500 @ RP, 2 min. rest, 300 @ RP, 5 min. walk/jog, 500 @ RP, 2 min. rest, 200 @ RP, cool-down jog with 2-3 min. in the middle slightly picked up.

This is really more of a race pace workout for the 1,000 and most people can’t do all of it at 800 RP, seeing as how the first set is already a broken 800 (pretty hard if you stop there) and there’s still the second set to do. But one of our best guys (Rutger Admirand — ran 1:49.03 indoors as a true freshman) nailed it perfectly in our last year at Cornell by running 1:07-41-1:08-27. He won the IC4A indoor 800, anchored the winning 4 x 8 and ran a 47.4 split on the 4 x 4. Incidentally, he improved his 4 x 4 split by well over a second by doing exclusively 800 training, and we had three other guys come from the 400-and-down group to our middle distance group and also improved their 400 times by doing just our 800 training (minus some of the mileage and tempo / VO2 stuff that the more distance-oriented 800 runners were doing). 800 training probably wouldn’t work for a super-speed burner like Michael Norman or Fred Kerley, but it works surprisingly often for your journeyman collegian who’s in the 46-48 range.

#3 Aerobic endurance work (plus some short speed at the end)

4 x 1,200 @ “crest load” pace / 3 min. easy jog between reps, 5 min. walk/jog after the last rep, 8-10 x 15 secs. progressively faster strides up a medium (about 5%) slope.

RJ: I don’t know where the hell John got that workout from as I know we never did that with our 800 guys, but he tells me he wants to put something on here to show you how to build up the 800 guys’ endurance (and said if we were only allowed to do three this would have to be one of them). When we started coaching at Cornell, I had the mid-d guys do like XC light in the fall. They pretty much just came to practice with the XC guys and I’d have them do something much lighter and shorter than the XC guys, like ½ or ⅔ of it. Just having fun with the guys and getting a little fitter.

Then they’d run a 5k at our home XC meet in early October and take a break and build back up for indoors. The key was to BUILD THEM up and not tear them down. Many pure mid-d guys can’t handle much. My first year, my top 800 guy who had never run XC in HS (football player) was in such good shape in the fall he made conference in XC (admittedly we ran 12 at Heps and the team was terrible that first year). The next year, he told me he wanted to go all-in on XC.

I let him build a big base in the summer but when fall XC started I told him, “I want to make sure this is building you up and not tearing you down.” It was clear after a few weeks: he just couldn’t handle it really. So after about a month, I told him let’s cut this down to XC lite like last year. You’ll still run conference but this isn’t helping you.

My last few years, I totally changed it up. I didn’t like the 800 guys taking a break in November when indoors technically started in December. So the last few years, I just let them screw around with the sprinters — doing plyos, drills, weights, ultimate frisbee, and sprint stuff — or two months in fall training while I coached XC. And then I sort of gave them light XC summer training to build them in October, November, December. I viewed October – November- December as equivalent to an XC runner’s summer. That was their “summer” so they were raring and ready to go for indoor track.

It worked great as we’d work directly with them on the day the XC guys weren’t working out and they’d have their own specially designed workouts. So if the XC guys were working out on Monday and Thursday, these guys would be Tuesday/Friday. This way they felt special and they developed their own group identity, were the focus of the workout, etc.

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Previous: Column #1 What Do You Think Of Hobbs Kessler Doubling Every Day?
Column #2What Are Your 3 Favorite Mile Workouts?

While coaching at Cornell, Rojo and JK had a lot of mid-d success. Highlights included guiding the Big Red to an Ivy League record in the indoor DMR with their best miler on the sideline, winning 5 straight IC4A 4 x 800 crowns, but they were perhaps best known as experts at teaching a guy on how to cross the finish line first at conference but get DQ;d on multiple occasions, once for fouling his own teammate and once for raising his fist in victory 50 meters from the finish line and then bowing to the crowd after winning.

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