Ask the Coaches: Finding The Perfect DMR 1200m Leg

The Distance Medley Relay is one of the most popular events in HS track that has yet to find a home at the California State Meet. Regardless, it hasn't stopped the Golden State from producing some of the best times in U.S. history.

Recently, we looked at what the Girls and Boys All-Star DMR teams might look like.

To follow up on that theme, we chatted with a handful of CA's top distance coaches, on what it takes in forming their relay. While there was agreement on some aspects, the different programs' philosophies can also be seen. There is no one way to create a perfect relay, but there are some tried-and-true steps to take.

Ask The Coaches: 

What is your thought process in selecting a 1200m leg for the DMR?

Mark Evans, Crescenta Valley

Since the 1200 is not run frequently, I look for someone who is one of our best competitors. That leadoff leg needs someone who is a great competitor, mentally tough with the confidence that he/she can stay with the lead group.  This person needs to be able to hand off in good position for the next leg.  This person needs that strength/speed component that allows them to be competitive at an unknown distance.

Rene Paragas, Saugus

First: If I'm running for time or the win?

Second: Personnel. What leg each person will run closest to their potential. If I have a sit-and-kick person, why would I want them getting the baton in no-man's land? And vice-versa with a strength runner.

Finally: Where can we get the most time back? Maybe my best runner is an 800m runner, but I'm not going to use them there because we will get more time with them running the 1200m or even the 1600m and put a weaker runner on the 800m.

Doug Soles, Great Oak

I'm always trying to find an athlete that fits this category:

  • 1600/800 runner
  • Great kick
  • Mentally tough
  • Not afraid to run a fast 800m and hold on for one more lap
  • If possible, the fastest distance athlete on the team (to get a lead)
  • Star power. I don't want a weak-minded individual; I want someone who expects to win the leg at Arcadia or Mt. SAC
  • No fear

Bill Reeves, Claremont

The DMR is mostly about the mile. So I would tend to put my best 800m runner on the 1200m leg. I feel the 1200m is more like an 800m than a mile race. I wound't want a real slow 800m leg either, so a combo good 800-miler if my No. 2 800-meter runner wasn't competitive. I would like my team to get out fast in the 1200 meter leg, I don't want to play catch-up in the race.

Brad Peters, Riverside King

When we had competitive squads in a "big race" (different motives in other scenarios), I'd try and put two thoughts together:

1) What kid can get out and get after it, being competitive in full burn?

2) What kid is a miler that leans 800m in terms of speed?

Usually, I erred toward No. 1 so that we could be in a good position at the end of the first leg.

Bob Leetch, Redondo Union

(SIDENOTE: Did you know he ran a 4:09.54 his senior year and still holds the school record for Redondo?)

When I got to El Camino College I had never run a DMR and was tasked with running the 1200m leg. Having never run it I asked my coach, the great Dave Shannon, "how do I run this?"

His response, "everyone runs it like a short mile. You need to run it like a long 800, attack!" Which fit my mindset.

We typically coach a pretty aggressive style of racing at Redondo. I look for a personality that can be very aggressive at the start and run it like a long 800m, attacking early and giving us a shot. 

Ken Quinn, Serrano

I try to go with my second best 1600m runner or maybe my second best 800m runner. Usually I go with the 1600m runner.

Ken Chai, El Torro

I guess it would depend on a number of things such as if we were running for time or for the win.  Generally speaking we've always started by deciding on who would anchor the race first.  I am guessing your question is if we had 2 athletes with similar 1600m times as we did in 2017.  Anyhow, my decision not only is based on physical but the mental side as well their racing style.

This is obvious, but I would go with someone with more leg speed but must have strength as well. A 800m/1600m-type of runner.  In our case, that was Ashley Messineo to use as an example.  What may be more important however is someone who can get out, get in position and is also good at navigating through traffic as most DMRs have a large field. 

In our case recently, we had two sub-5 minute girls but it was a simple decision as not only did Messineo have better leg speed (62/2:15 vs. 65/2:20) but more importantly Hannah Tobin had more patience and she could run like a metronome which made her ideal as an anchor.  Most runners can run in a pack but not all have the ability stay patient or chase down runners.  Athletes can get too excited in relays as you know.

Even with a faster 1600m PR, I would still go with Messineo in 1200 and Tobin as anchor as you did in your article.


Photos by Ben Crawford, Clark Kranz, Zoe Medranda, Jeffrey Parenti.