I came up with this workout for the Wednesday night track crew I coach as a fun way to get in a high volume of quality work while also practicing how to be disciplined, stay focused, and go through a wide range of gears. This session works best in a group environment because it has a competitive element to it—you’re “eliminated” when you run slower than your previous interval; whoever can tally up the most reps “wins” the workout—but it can also be done alone. Here are the details:
What: A bunch of 400m repeats with 30 seconds recovery between reps. How many reps? That’s up to you! Start at marathon pace and aim to get a little faster for each subsequent repetition. (Never run a marathon and/or not sure of your marathon pace? Use the Jack Daniels Running Calculator to figure out where you should start!) How much faster? That’s also up to you, but the faster you run your 400m interval, the faster the next one has to be. You’re “eliminated” from the workout when you run slower than your previous repeat! So, if your marathon pace is 8:00/mi, start at around 2:00 for your first 400. That shouldn’t be too hard. Your next one can’t be any slower than that, otherwise you’re “eliminated” from the workout. My recommendation is to keep it simple and aim to go one second faster than your previous 400. If you get one second faster per repetition, that’s about 5 seconds per mile, and the workout starts getting challenging pretty quick. If you can hit 12 reps with each one getting a second faster than the one before it, that will get you down around your 5K pace. Totaling 16-18 after starting at marathon pace and getting a second faster per lap will get most people close to their mile pace. More than that and you’re kicking pretty freaking hard! *Note: The idea here is to get in at least 10-12 reps, ideally quite a bit more than that if you pace yourself well. If you “eliminate” yourself before 10 reps, simply adjust your effort/pace and finish the work if you can keep cutting down the pace.
Why: The goal here is to be methodical and precise in your approach so you can get in 16 reps or even a few more. It requires discipline and patience to not shift gears too quickly. The accumulation of work and short rests really catches up with you by the end but this is good practice for finishing fast when both your legs and lungs are fried!
Warmup/Cooldown: Warm up before the workout with 15-30 minutes of easy running followed by a set of drills and 4-6 x 20-second strides (i.e., accelerate for 5 seconds, spend the next 10 seconds at near-top speed, and then gradually decelerate to a jog over the final 5 seconds. Catch your breath for 40-60 seconds and then repeat 3-5 more times). Cool down after the workout with 5-15 minutes of easy running.
Where: Ideally you’ll have access to a 400m track for this workout but it can easily be translated to the treadmill or a flat stretch of bike path or trail.
When: This is a good workout to implement early in a training block and then repeat every 3-4 weeks as a benchmark session to test your fitness and monitor progress. It will leave you feeling zapped, however, so don’t do it within 7-10 days of a key race.