Middle-distance running

Middle-distance running events are track races longer than sprints, up to 3000 metres. The standard middle distances are the 800 metres, 1500 metres and mile run, although the 3000 metres may also be classified as a middle-distance event.[1] The 1500 m came about as a result of running 3 34 laps of a 400 m outdoor track or 7 12 laps of a 200 m indoor track,[2] which were commonplace in continental Europe in the 20th century.[3]


500 metres

A very uncommon middle-distance event that is sometimes run by sprinters for muscle stamina training.

600 yards

This was a popular distance, particularly indoors, when imperial distances were common. In 1882, American Lon Myers set what was then a world record at 600 yards (548.64 m), running it in 1:11.4.[4] The event was a common event for most American students because it was one of the standardized test events as part of the President's Award on Physical Fitness.[5] In the early 1970s, Martin McGrady was unsuccessful at longer or shorter races, but made his reputation, set world records and drew many fans to arenas to watch him race elite Olympians at this odd distance.

600 metres

This middle distance length is rather uncommon, and is mainly run by sprinters wishing to test their endurances at a longer distance. Like other middle distance races, it evolved from the 600 yard race. The 600 m is also used as an early season stepping stone by 800 m runners before they have reached full race fitness.

Johnny Gray (United States) holds the record for men: 1:12.81, Santa Monica, 24 May 1986.

Ana Fidelia Quirot (Cuba) holds the women's record: 1:22.63, Guadalajara, 25 July 1997.

800 metres

The 800 m consists of two laps around a standard 400 m track, and has always been an Olympic event. It was included in the first women's track programme in 1928, but suspended until 1960 because of shock and the exhaustion it caused the competitors. Without the benefits of modern training, men of the era were, in contrast, expected to run themselves to complete exhaustion during competitions.

David Rudisha (Kenya) is the current recordholder: 1:40.91, London, 9 August 2012. Jarmila Kratochvílová (Czechoslovakia) set the current women's record: 1:53.28, Munich, 26 July 1983.[6]

880 yards

The 880-yard (804.67 m) run, or half mile, was the forebear to the 800 m distance and has its roots in competitions in the United Kingdom in the 1830s.[7]

1000 metres

This distance is not commonly raced, though it is more common than the 500 m event is for sprinters. This is commonly raced as an indoor men's heptathlon event, or as an indoor high school event. In 1881, Lon Myers set what was then a world record at 1000 yards, running it in 2:13.0.[4]

The men's record is held by Noah Ngeny (Kenya) (2:11.96, Rieti, 5 September 1999), while Svetlana Masterkova (Russia) set the women's record (2:28.98, Brussels, 23 August 1996).[6]

See also 1000 metres world record progression.

1200 metres

Three laps. A distance seldom raced on its own, but commonly raced as part of the distance medley relay.

There is no recorded world records or world bests. However, Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco) is believed to be the fastest man at this distance: 2:44.75, Rieti, 2002.[8]

1500 metres

Also known as the metric mile, this is a premier middle-distance race, covering three and three-quarter laps around a standard Olympic-sized track. In recent years, races over this distance have become more of a prolonged sprint, with each lap averaging 55 seconds for the world record performance by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco: 3:26.00 on 14 July 1998 at Rome (two 1:50 min 800 m performances back to back).[6] Thus, speed is necessary, and it seems that the more aerobic conditioning, the better. Genzebe Dibaba from Ethiopia holds the women's world record: 3:50.07 set in Monaco on 17 July 2015.[6]

This is a difficult distance at which to compete mentally, in addition to being one of the more tactical middle-distance track events. The distance is often witness to some of the most tactical, physical races in the sport, as many championship races are won in the final few metres.

1600 metres

At exactly four laps of a normal 400 m track, this distance is raced as a near replacement for the mile (it is, in fact, 9.344 m, about 30.6 feet, shorter; however, it is still colloquially referred to as "the mile"). The 1600 meters is the official distance for this range of races in US high schools. While this race is rarely run outside high school and collegiate invitational competition, it has been held at the international level. The 1500 m, however, is the most common distance run at the college and international levels. The final leg of a distance medley relay is 1600 metres.

An accurate way to run an actual mile on a metric track is to run the additional 9.344 meters before starting the first marked 400 meter lap. Many tracks, especially high-level tracks, will have a waterfall starting line drawn 9.344 meters back for this purpose. Otherwise, on a metric track, there will be a relay zone 10 meters before the common start/finish line, frequently marked by a triangle pointed toward the finish. In many configurations, that triangle is about half a meter wide, making its point extremely close to the mile start line, which would be slightly less than two feet from the marked relay zone (the widest part of the triangle, or line).[9]


This length of middle-distance race, 1,760 yards (1,609.344 m), is very common in countries that do not use the metric system, and is still often referred to as the "Blue Riband" of the track. When the International Amateur Athletic Federation decided in 1976 to recognize only world records for metric distances, it made an exception for the mile and records are kept to this day.

Historically, the mile took the place that the 1500 m has today. It is still raced on the world class level, but usually only at select occasions, like the famous Wanamaker Mile, held annually at the Millrose Games. Running a mile in less than four minutes is a famously difficult achievement, long thought impossible by the scientific community. The first man to break the four-minute barrier was Englishman Roger Bannister at Oxford in 1954.

The current record holders are Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco) (3:43.13, Rome, 7 July 1999) and Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) (4:12.33, Monaco, 12 July 2019).[6]

2000 metres

Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco) (4:44.79, Berlin, 7 September 1999) and Sonia O'Sullivan (Ireland) (5:25.36, Edinburgh, 8 July 1994) are currently the fastest at this distance outdoors.[6] On February 7, 2017, Genzebe Dibaba (Ethiopia) ran 5:23.75 indoors. Although the 2000m isn't an official world record event indoors, Dibaba's performance can be classed as an outright world record as it is faster than Sonia O'Sullivan's outdoor mark.[10]

3000 metres

Truly on the borderline between middle and longer distances, the 3000 m (7.5 laps) is a standard race in the United States. Between 1983 and 1993 it was a world championship event for women at the outdoor IAAF World Championships and Olympics. The 1984 Olympic race was famous for the controversial collision between Mary Decker and Zola Budd. The race has been a fixture at the IAAF World Indoor Championships since its inception in 1985 as the longest race for both men and women. This race requires decent speed, but a lack of natural quickness can be made up for with superior aerobic conditioning and race tactics. The records at this distance were set by Daniel Komen (Kenya) (7:20.67, Rieti, 1 September 1996) and Junxia Wang (China) (8:06.11, Beijing, 13 September 1993).[6]

3200 metres

At exactly eight laps on a standard 400 m track, this event is typically run only in American high schools, along with the 1600 m. It is colloquially called the "two-mile", as the distance is only 18.688 metres shorter. In college, the typical runner of this event would convert to the 5,000 metre run (or potentially the 3,000 metre run during indoor season). Most eastern American high schools, colleges, and middle schools, this event is usually considered a long-distance event, depending on the region. It is the longest track distance run in most high school competitions.[11]

Two miles

This length of long middle-distance or short long-distance race was 3,520 yards (3,218.688 m).

Historically, the two mile took the place that the 3000 m and the 3200 m have today. The first man to break the four-minute barrier for both miles was Daniel Komen (Kenya) at Hechtel, Belgium on 19 July 1997, and his time of 7:58.61 remains a world record. Meseret Defar (Ethiopia) is the fastest woman: 8:58.58, Brussels, Belgium, 14 September 2007.

2,000 metre steeplechase

Another race only run in high school or Masters meets. The typical specialist in this event would move up to the 3000 metre steeplechase in college.

3,000 metre steeplechase

The 3,000 metre steeplechase is a distance event requiring greater strength, stamina, and agility than the flat 3,000 metre event. This is because athletes are required to jump over five barriers per lap, after a flat first 200 m to allow for settling in. One barrier per lap is placed in front of a water pit, meaning that runners are also forced to deal with the chafing of wet shoes as they race. The world records are held by Saif Saeed Shaheen (Qatar) (7:53.63, Brussels. 3 September 2004) and Gulnara Samitova (Russia) (8:58.81, Beijing, 17 August 2008).[6]

United States and Japan youth running

In the United States, the 3000 m is more common at the high school and collegiate levels (along with the US two mile). In Japan, the 800, 1500 and 3000 metre events are competed in both genders for junior high school and high school, except that high school boys jump to 5000 metres. Both 3000 and 5000 metre distances are sometimes described as long distance[12] but also frequently as middle distance,[13][14][15] depending on the context. From the perspective of a longer race like a half marathon, marathon or relays such as the ekiden relay, the 5000 metre race might be viewed as middle distance.

The tables below do not focus on record times but rather on the performance of many runners in a given year (in this case, 2007 and 2008). These are the top 100 (or even 500) junior high school and high school runners in Japan and the USA.

800 metres

800 metresAge GroupCountry# of AthletesTime Range 2007Time Range 2008
Boys Junior High SchoolJapanTop 200[14]1:56.06 - 2:03.91
Boys Middle SchoolUSATop 500[16][17]2:00.67 - 2:29.00
Boys High SchoolJapanTop 100[13][18]1:51.66 - 1:56.341:50.85 - 1:57.87
Boys High SchoolUSATop 100[19]1:48.63 - 1:53.821:48.6 - 1:53.77
Girls Junior High SchoolJapanTop 100[14][16]2:09.87 - 2:19.02
Girls Middle SchoolUSATop 500[16][17]2:18.03 - 2:48.00
Girls High SchoolJapanTop 100[13][18]2:07.34 - 2:16.342:06.47 - 2:15.70
Girls High SchoolUSATop 100[19]2:02.38 - 2:12.832:01.61 - 2:13.09

1500 metres

A few states of the USA use this distance, among them Oregon, Florida, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

1500 metresAge GroupCountry# of AthletesTime Range 2007Time Range 2008
Boys Junior High SchoolJapanTop 150[14]3:59.40 - 4:13.77
Boys Middle SchoolUSATop 200[16][17]4:21.07 - 5:17
Boys High SchoolJapanTop 100[13][18]3:51.65 - 3:59.103:44.21 - 3:57.87
Boys High SchoolUSATop 31, Top 100[17][19][20]3:47.31 - 3:59.683:49.51 - 4:08.0
Girls Junior High SchoolJapanTop 200[14]4:23.92 - 4:45.49
Girls Middle SchoolUSATop 200[16][17]4:58.73 - 6:01.00
Girls High SchoolJapanTop 200[13][18]4:20.44 - 4:37.684:17.13 - 4:36.64
Girls High SchoolUSATop 28, Top 200[17][19][20]4:16.98 - 4:39.924:14.50 - 4:55.0

1600 metres

1600 metresAge GroupCountry# of AthletesTime Range 2007Time Range 2008
Boys Middle SchoolUSATop 200[16][17]4:39.0 - 5:24.0
Boys High SchoolUSATop 100, Top 200[17][19][20]4:04.9 to 4:15.054:00.29 to 4:18.0
Girls Middle SchoolUSATop 200[16][17]5:09.26 - 6:07.5
Girls High SchoolUSATop 100, Top 200[17][19][20]4:38.15 to 4:58.154:33.82 to 5:03.0

3000 metres

A few states of the USA use this distance, among them Oregon, Massachusetts, Florida, and Rhode Island.

3000 metresAge GroupCountry# of AthletesTime Range 2007Time Range 2008
Boys Junior High SchoolJapanTop 250[14]8:27.57 - 9:09.8
Boys Middle SchoolUSATop 100[16][17]9:36.35 - 12:05
Boys High SchoolJapanTop 50[13][18]8:17.85 - 8:40.147:59.12 - 8:32.69
Boys High SchoolUSATop 23, Top 100[17][19][20]8:09.09 - 8:31.808:28.46 - 9:04.0
Girls Junior High SchoolJapanTop 100[14]9:12.89 - 10:06.89
Girls Middle SchoolUSATop 30[16][17]10:54.8 - 12:47.67
Girls High SchoolJapanTop 400[13][18]9:04.63 - 9:59.028:58.77 - 9:56.75
Girls High SchoolUSATop 50, Top 100[17][19][20]9:26.9 - 10:06.69:15.11 - 10:25.0

3200 metres

3200 metresAge GroupCountry# of AthletesTime Range 2007Time Range 2008
Boys Middle SchoolUSATop 150[16][17]10:54.33 - 13:10
Boys High SchoolUSATop 100[19]8:46.04 - 9:13.18:34.23 - 9:15.54
Girls Middle SchoolUSATop 70[16][17]12:03.05 - 15:40/28
Girls High SchoolUSATop 100[19]10:04.07 - 10:52.329:52.13 - 10:51.52

2000 metre steeplechase

In the US, the steeplechase is still relatively uncommon in high school.[20]

2000 metre steeplechaseAge GroupCountry# of AthletesTime Range 2007Time Range 2008
Boys High SchoolUSATop 5, Top 100[20][21]5:52.63 - 6:03.335:54.58 - 7:48.40
Girls High SchoolJapanTop 2[18]7:06.62 and 7:23.11
Girls High SchoolUSATop 5, Top 100[20][21]6:36.34 - 6:50.476:42.86 - 8:11.0

3000 metre steeplechase

Rarely run in youth competition, though some high school competitions include the 3000m steeplechase, for example, it is an event competed in championships and larger meets in New York State.

3000 metre steeplechaseAge GroupCountry# of AthletesTime Range 2007Time Range 2008
Boys High SchoolJapanTop 100[13][18]9:06.10 - 9:26.918:54.55 - 9:25.34
Boys High SchoolUSATop 10, Top 100[20][21]9:08.11 - 9:35.809:07.02 - 10:50.0
Girls High SchoolJapanTop 2[18]10:50.14 and 10:52.84
Girls High SchoolUSATop 1,[20][21]10:52.8210:42.22

5000 metres

(Not a middle distance event)

Japanese secondary school boys regularly run 5000 metres on the track rather than 3000 meters. USA high school boys rarely run this distance except during cross country.

5000 metresAge GroupCountry# of AthletesTime Range 2007Time Range 2008
Boys High SchoolJapanTop 500[13][18]14:00.8 - 14:57.5713:33.24 - 14:56.94
Boys High SchoolUSATop 5[21]13:55.96 - 14:41.96
Girls High SchoolJapanTop 200[13][18]15:27.98 - 17:24.9915:02.28 - 17:19.84
Girls High SchoolUSATop 5[21]16:36.34 - 16:50.4716:18.91 - 17:20.07

See also

Notes and references

  1. Middle-distance running. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved on 5 April 2010.
  2. For track cycling, 500 m outdoor tracks and 250 m indoor tracks are still commonplace.
  3. 1500 m – Introduction. IAAF. Retrieved on 5 April 2010.
  4. Joe D. Willis and Richard G. Wettan (November 2, 1975). "L. E. Myers, "World's Greatest Runner"" (PDF). Journal of Sport History. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
  5. http://www.fitness.gov/pdfs/50-year-anniversary-booklet.pdf
  6. http://www.iaaf.org/statistics/recbycat/location=O/recordtype=WR/event=0/age=N/area=0/sex=W/records.html IAAF Records, accessed January 6, 2010
  7. 800 m – Introduction. IAAF. Retrieved on 5 April 2010.
  8. "Progression Of The Fastest 1200m Time En Route to 1500 or Mile". trackandfieldnews.com. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  9. http://www.trackinfo.org/marks.html TrackInfo Marking guide
  10. Jon Mulkeen (7 February 2017). "Dibaba breaks world 2000m record in Sabadell". IAAF. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  11. http://www.khsaa.org/track/ Kentucky High School Athletic Association, Accessed May 7, 2010
  12. Yashita Makoto, Long Distance: Preparation Season Training, Track and Field Magazine (Japan), Vol 56 No 3, February 2006, page 220.
  13. 2008 High School Middle Distance Detailed List, All Japan High School Ekiden Spectator's Guide, January Supplement, Track and Field Magazine (Japan), Vol 59 No 1, January 2009, pages 87-90.
  14. 2008 Japan and Junior High School Middle Distance Top 100, Track and Field Magazine (Japan), Vol 59 No 1, January 2009, pages 152-153.
  15. New Athletes in Middle Distance and Race Walking Top 10 lists, Track and Field Magazine (Japan), Vol 59 No 1, January 2009, pages 154.
  16. Athletic.Net middle school
  17. www/.Milesplit.us/rankings, National Outdoor TF Rankings, accessed 25 January 2009
  18. 2007 High School Detailed List by Year-in-School, Track and Field Magazine (Japan), Vol 58 No 6, April 2008, pages 182-196.
  19. www.Dyestat.com, accessed 25 January 2009
  20. Athletic.Net high school
  21. Track and Field News, accessed 25 January 2009
  • (in Japanese) Track and Field Magazine (Rikujou kyougi magazine); contact Baseball Magazine Company, Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 102-0073; sportsclick.jp/track.
  • Milesplit. US, as of 2008, represents results primarily from the eastern states of USA.
  • Athletic.net, as of 2008, represents results from all states of USA, but especially the western states.
  • The centralized collection of high school and especially middle school data in the USA is relatively new, and there is more 2008 data than 2007 data. For both high school and middle school, many good performances may not have been reported to the various agencies.
  • Middle school often implies the students are one year younger than junior high. Japanese junior high corresponds with USA 7th, 8th and 9th grades.

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