Workout of the Week: 1 mile, 9 x 400m


This workout was introduced to me by coach Kevin Curtin when I was running for New Balance Boston—now Battle Road Track Club—about 17 years ago. We would use it early in a training block as a sort of reintroduction to track work but he’d also pull it out later in the season to sharpen us up for a goal 5K or 10K. The paces we tried to hit for the 400m reps differed depending on the training focus at the time. It’s been a go-to session for me and my athletes ever since. Here are the details:

What: Run 1 mile at your 10K pace followed by 2-1/2 to 3 minutes standing/walking recovery. Then run 3 sets of 3 x 400m with 1 minute standing/walking recovery between reps and 2-1/2 to 3 minutes standing/walking recovery between sets. Run the first set of 3 reps at your 5K pace (roughly 15-20 sec/mi faster than your 10K pace). Run the second set of 3 reps at your 3K pace (for simplicity’s sake, let’s say 4-5 seconds faster per 400 than the previous set). Run the third set of 3 reps at your 1-mile pace (again, for simplicity’s sake, let’s say 4-5 seconds faster per 400 than the previous set). If you’re early in your training block and shifting gears isn’t a priority, keep the 400s at 3K-5K pace/effort all the way through.

Why: This is a great workout to use earlier in the season to help re-establish your sense of rhythm on the track and prepare you for the more sustained VO2 max and threshold work you’ll do in the weeks to come. Later in the season, when sharpening for 5K or 10K racing, it takes you through a bunch of different gears, requires you to be patient and disciplined with your pacing, encourages you to close hard, and helps boost confidence before race day.

Where: Ideally, on the track! (But you can just as easily and effectively do it on the roads, a flat path, or a treadmill, too.)

When: Earlier in the season, 12-16 weeks out from a key race(s) is ideal. About a week out from a key race if you’re shifting gears. It’s challenging and stimulating but not a lot of volume, which means it shouldn’t take you more than a couple days to recover from it (if you’re fit!).

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