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February 23, 2022

Jakob Ingebrigtsen Just Ran 3:30 For The Indoor 1,500M World Record in February. How Is That Possible?


When Jakob Ingebrigtsen chose the caption, ‘My first world record!’ it was with a wink to the future. Ahead of the 1500m in Lievin it was no secret that the youthful, speedy Norwegian would be gunning for the previous mark of 3:31.04, held by Ethiopia’s Samuel Tefera, who would also be in the race. So like a boxer stepping into the ring to defend his belt, Tefera had an opportunity to keep the title and though he put up a valiant effort, he ultimately finished second in 3:33.70.

Jakob was able to accomplish this feat for a couple reasons: supreme fitness and ideal pacing. According to the broadcast, this was the first time wave light technology had been used indoors and while The Lap Count’s personal opinion is that it should be reserved for time trials, (which this more or less was), it undoubtedly works.

When Jakob was emerging onto the scene a couple years ago — in addition to having a couple of track-famous older brothers — he first made a splash with his wild finishes. He was the guy in terms of going out conservatively then closing hard in the second half.

It’s substantially more difficult to slowly inch your way up through a crowded field when you’re the dude the meet directors have set up the race around, and every jersey in the field is looking at yours. That’s why it’s so noteworthy that even as the best in the world, Jakob still likes to employ his trademark strategy, which is vastly different from the East African hard-from-the-gun-style.

With the help of lights and a couple of rabbits, Ingebrigtsen came through 1000m in 2:20.9 before hopping on and then under WR pace, thanks to a 55.5 final 400m.

To help put this performance in perspective, I’m also going to answer an excellent subscriber question I got shortly after the race.

Jakob just ran 3:30 in February, how is that possible? Isn’t this supposed to be the time of year when he’s base building? Is he doing summer-time level speed work right now? Or does he peak twice? I don’t understand how the difference between elite winter times and elite summer times is so small given periodization.

Good question! While the general understanding has always been that outdoor times are faster than those run indoors, that is quickly becoming an antiquated assumption. If you, dear reader, haven’t surprised yourself with an unexpected wintertime PR, then surely you’ve got a friend or teammate who has. Personally, my indoor mile best is two seconds faster than any mile I ran outdoors, and I ran plenty in peak fitness.

There are more obvious contributing factors, like perfect weather and increased participation. And there are some really fast indoor tracks, too. The fastest tracks are still those made around 50 years ago and constructed using plywood (check out this fantastic new article about why BU is so fast). But the majority of new facilities utilize hydraulic banks and can set the track at ideal angles for any given distance. So not only are athletes seeking out the ideal spots to go quick, even their secondary options create opportunity.

But I want to focus your attention on one of the less visible shifts: how training has changed. One of the most influential coaches in the history of distance running is Arthur Lydiard, who popularized what’s known as “periodization.” The basic concept is that a large base phase of mileage and strength work eventually shifts to more specific efforts with the introduction of hills, tempos, pace work, and speed sessions. By the end of the systematic training cycle, the athlete is ready for a sharp peak with all the tools finally under their belt.

As described here by Matt Fitzgerald, coaches and athletes explored variations on that theme, leading to the gradual introduction of nonlinear periodization, which essentially says, “do everything all the time.” This is how a guy like Steve Scott was able to run 137 sub-four-minute miles.

Then there is the Ingebrigtsen method, which given its recent success, is proliferating into the training schedules of coaches around the world. How can you see those results and not try to replicate them? The basic premise is a heavy emphasis on interval threshold training, often with two sessions in a given day, complemented with plenty of hill work and routine blood lactate testing.

But the real differentiator and guiding principle is that no individual session should ever be so hard as to risk injury or compromise the next. It’s a tempered and long-term-oriented approach that relies on stacking general fitness versus bombing a Hail Mary at the end of the season. With a consistent diet of mileage well north of 100-per-week, Jakob’s peak is achieved almost exclusively by tamping down on that single variable. Throw in some controlled 1500m pace work and the reason Jakob can run fast in February and then again in August is because he’s always healthy and he’s always fit.

Now, not to take away from the indoor 1500m WR, but it was a weak record and still is weak when stacked up against other world records. On the outdoor list, the previous mark of 3:31.04 would have registered as 74th all-time and Jakob’s time of 3:30.60 is only 56th fastest time ever run. Compare that to where some other indoor records would be ranking on the 400m oval (and these were all run without super shoes):

  • Wilson Kipketer’s 1:42.67 800m would be 22nd.
  • Gudaf Tsegay’s 3:53.09 1500m would be 9th.
  • Yamif Kejelcha’s 3:47.01 mile would be 9th.
  • Genezebe Dibaba’s 4:13.31 mile would be 3rd.
  • Daniel Komen’s 7:24.90 3000m would be 3rd.
  • Kenenisa Bekele’s 12:49.60 5000m would be 21st.

The key takeaway from all this is that Jakob ran 3:28.32 to win the Olympics in what was his third race in five days. He was likely in 3:26 shape then! Opening up in 3:30 now is not too surprising. We wouldn’t be too floored by a 3:59 miler starting his season with a 4:03, so let’s not be too surprised here either!

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