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On paper, a session of 8 x 400-meter repeats gives the illusion of an easy workout—but executed properly, these one-lappers can be a real doozy.
The workout, made popular by former marathon world-record holder Rob De Castella of Australia, is as simple as it sounds: eight, one-lap repeats of the track. The pace: it varies (more on this in a bit). The recovery: a scant, but swift, 200-meter float.
De Castella would perform this session weekly throughout the year, regardless of whether he was training for a marathon or not. The pace of the workout would fluctuate “depending on if Rob was recovering in the winter versus when he was in peak shape and flying,” recalled Derek Froude in Michael Sandrock’s Running With The Legends.
So how fast should you run your repeats? De Castella recommends an anaerobic threshold pace, or your fastest maintainable speed. For most runners, this roughly translates to a speed that is slightly faster than your current 5K race pace. Doesn’t sound too difficult, right?
Here’s the catch. The recovery between each repeat is a 200-meter, or half a lap, “float”—not a walk or slow jog, but more of a brisk trot. The key to this session is that you never completely recover before starting the next 400-meter interval, and as the workout progresses you’ll be forced to work harder to maintain the same pace at which you started out. This is threshold training at its truest, simulates race surging and will teach your body to recover quickly while running fast.
“As you get fitter, your red line rises from about 80 percent of maximum heart rate to 90-95 percent,” writes world-renowned running coach and top exercise physiologist, Jack Daniels. “Physiologically, threshold training teaches muscle cells to use more oxygen—less lactate is produced. Your body also becomes better at clearing lactate: race-day red line speed rises.”
Beginner (Shorter) Version
- Warm-up: Run easily for 10-15 minutes; follow with 4 x 20-second strides.
- Workout: 4-6 x 400 meters (one lap of the track) with a 200-meter “float” between intervals. Run the 400’s at 1-2 seconds per lap (4-8 seconds per mile) faster than your current 5K race pace and the 200’s at a pace that’s about a minute per mile slower than your 5K pace.
- Cooldown: Run easily for 10-15 minutes, stretch, refuel.
Advanced (Longer) Version
- Warm-up: Run easily for 20-25 minutes; follow with 6 x 20-second strides.
- Workout: 8 x 400 meters (one lap of the track) with a 200-meter “float” between intervals. Run the 400’s at 1-2 seconds per lap (4-8 seconds per mile) faster than your current 5K race pace and the 200’s at a pace that’s about a minute per mile slower than your 5K pace.
- Cooldown: Run easily for 20-25 minutes, stretch, refuel.
When all is said and done, a full session of Deek’s Quarters yields two miles worth of faster intervals but totals three miles of total work since you’re not taking a full recovery between 400m intervals. This workout benefits a wide range of runners from weekend warriors hoping to improve their 5K time to serious marathoners looking to lop minutes off their personal best. De Castella used to perform this workout weekly, but for most runners, tackling such a session every other week or even once every third or fourth week is plenty. As you get fitter, your lap times, and your race times, will get faster.