Coach Mike Mead

February 2015

If You Need Speed Try Repeat 400's

What is your favorite speed workout? If you have been running for any period of time and have become experienced enough to work on your speed training, you likely have a favorite workout.

If you are new to running, you may not be familiar about how to speed train. I’m also certain there are experienced runners who have not done speed training, too. Whatever the circumstances, speed training done correctly can make anyone a faster runner.

You can read or watch YouTube videos of what the top-level runners are doing. Keep in mind, these folks have been training at a high level for several years and have a coach monitoring their workouts. So if you are getting started at speed training, may I suggest 400m repeats?

There is a classic running novel called “Once a Runner” about the exploits of a runner training to run a sub-four minute mile. A key point in the story has the main character training under the guidance of his running idol, an Olympic gold medalist. One workout for the story’s hero was 20 x 400’s. When our hero thought he was done after 20, his idol instructed him to do 20 more!

My favorite workout was 400 repeats during my competitive years of running. I never did anything like 40 of them in a workout, nor do I recall doing 20. I think 400 repeats are the perfect workout for the novice and experienced alike.

To do them properly, you need access to a 400-meter track, typically found these days around high school football fields, or on many college campuses. A 400-meter track provides an accurate, controlled environment -- no hills, just occasional wind. The workout is simple -- run one lap, rest briefly, repeat.

How many 400’s, how fast to run each, and how long the rest between each 400 takes some calculating and depends on the goal time one is trying to work on for the specific distance you are trying to run.

What I liked about running 400 repeats was that I could work on my goal pace and attempt to carry it over the course of the entire workout. For example, if I was training to run a 5:00 mile, I knew I needed to average 1:15 (75 seconds) per lap (400m) to hit my objective time. So, I might start with 4 x 400’s with the goal of running each one in 1:15 and taking equal rest (1:15) between each 400.

There is no guarantee you will reach that 5:00 mile goal running four, 400’s in a workout at 75 second pace. It may take running 8 x 400’s at pace. It might take running 6 x 400 at 72 second pace with one-minute rest between each to accomplish your goal time.

Running 75 second pace per 400m is ideal, but not realistic. As most experienced runners know, it is difficult to run consistently even pace. Races can start fast and end slow, or start slow and end fast. Many variables that will affect a races’ outcome whether it be the competitors themselves or conditions like the weather and the course that lay ahead of you.

Running 400 repeats can help novice runners work on their pace and get a better sense how to race more wisely. Today’s runners have snazzy watches and GPS’s to monitor their running, but they desensitize the runner from getting a natural sense about their pace. At the height of my training, there were days when I ran 400m repeats that I could run without a watch and run pretty spot on hitting my goal pace.

Lastly, plan running 400m repeats once a week for four to six weeks in preparation of your next race. Once you are comfortable doing 400m repeats, you can try other distances in various combinations, depending on the distance you are preparing to race.

If you desire to improve your speed or are new to running, give 400m repeats a try for your upcoming spring racing.