Seeing a handful of mid-range repeats at a hard effort on the training schedule is the type of workout that will keep some runners up at night—and for good reason! The hard truth is these types of sessions really sting and you can’t fake your way through ’em. (n.b. This was me in college when we had repeat Ks or 1200s on tap!) If you’re doing them right, they’ll set your legs and lungs on fire, make you breathe rather erratically, and leave you bent over with your hands on your knees when you’re finished. (If this sounds terrible, the good news is you don’t have to do this type of workout more than once a week, or even every other week, to reap the benefits.) The 4 x 4 is a simple and straightforward workout that will launch your fitness to a new level, but you will have to earn it. Here are the details:
What: 4 x 4 minutes @ 3K-5K effort/pace (8/10 RPE, i.e. hard but not quite all-out) w/2-4′ walk-jogging recovery between reps. (Early in a training block I like to keep the recovery on the longer side and tighten it up as we gain fitness and training gets more specific.)
Why: This is a challenging workout that will improve your aerobic capacity, efficiency, focus, and confidence. If done right, four reps will be plenty for most people—you can do a fifth rep if you’ve built up to it over the course of a few months and can maintain the intensity for one more.
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: Anywhere! You can do this workout on the track but I like to take it to the roads, trails, or grass where there’s some variety to the terrain that makes trying to hit a specific pace irrelevant. You can also do it on the treadmill if you aren’t able to get outside.
When: This is a great workout for half-marathoners, marathoners, and ultrarunners early in a training block when they’re working on developing a high level of fitness but not getting too specific with their key workouts just yet. For athletes focusing on 5K-10K distances, it can serve as a challenging race-specific session. Either way, this is a workout that you can use as a benchmark session once every few weeks to see how your fitness has progressed.