Cracking the two-minute barrier is a landmark for female international 800m runners. American Molly Ludlow has achieved the feat six times this outdoor season alone. Here is her guide on how to do it.

1. Let’s go mental

A positive mental attitude is essential if you want to achieve a sub-two-minute 800m time.

Molly Ludlow, who went number seven on the all-time US lists with a 1:57.68 at the 2016 Monaco Diamond League, admits to sometimes stepping on the start line with a feeling “dread” at the prospect of the pain set to follow. Other times she has felt a combination of “excitement” and “motivation”. It is on such occasions that the middle-distance runner knows a sub-2:00 time is within her grasp.

“I remember in 2010 stepping on the start line in Lignano [Italy] really excited,” she says of the first time she ran a sub-two-minute time in 2010. “My legs felt awesome and everything felt positive that day. My mentality is a huge contributor in terms of my success.”

2. Race, race and race. Then race some more

Some athletes can just show up in their first competition of the season and crack two-minutes. Not Ludlow who likes to find her rhythm by racing regularly.

“I need to race myself into shape,” she says. In 2014 she ran six outdoor races before finally achieving a 1:59 in Ostrava (outdoor race number seven). She went on to run sub-two-minutes on a further three occasions in 2014. This season she again didn’t crack the two-minute mark until her seventh race, but has since broken it five further times.

“I never reach that point in practice to compare with a race situation,” she admits. “I’ve always been like that. Even at college my coach would need to race me a whole bunch of times before he could get what I want out of me.”

3. Pace to your strengths

In recent times, Ludlow says she has tried to not over-think race pace. Yet it can’t be totally ignored if an athlete wants to break two-minutes.

She insists some athletes like Alysia Montano are capable of running 55 seconds for the first lap and going sub-two. Others, such as 2014 world number one Ajee Wilson, prefer a more conservative first 400m, hitting the bell in around 58-59 seconds, to accomplish the target.

Ludlow prefers to adopt a pace somewhere between the two.

“When I set my PR I went through the bell in mid 57 seconds,” she explains. “I’m not a 51-second quarter miler like Alysia; I can’t run at 55 seconds for the first lap, but I can run 4:07 for 1500m, so for me to carry that speed through 57 seconds for the first lap should be comfortable.”

Alysia Montano Molly Ludlow ()

Alysia Montano and Ludlow at the 2016 Olympic Trials. The pair won 4x800m gold at the 2015 World Relays in a US record 8:01.58

4. Best till last

Many people talk about the third 200m as being key to a quality 800m performance, but Ludlow disagrees. She reckons the final 200m is vital.

“I say this because I often go through 600m in a similar time, but you either have it in you or not on the day to run sub-two-minutes,” she says.

“I’ve been through 600m in 1:27 and I’ve run 1:59. Other days I’ve been through in 1:28 and ran 2:01. So for me it is all about the last 200m.”

5. Chill out

A vital component of delivering over that final 200m is to “carry speed with relaxation” according to Ludlow. To master this art effectively, the Ohio native works hard in practice with her coach Ron Helmer. 

“I’ve noticed with the workouts I’ve been putting in that I’m carrying speed, but now with a lot more relaxation,” explains Ludlow.

“I carry out the same workouts of say 6x800m, but I’ll do so with a one minute recovery rather than three.”

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