To do 20 400m re­peats you need grit and proper pac­ing

Runner's World (UK) - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALEX HUTCHIN­SON Alex Hutchin­son is a for­mer elite ath­lete and the au­thor of Which comes first, Car­dio or weights? ( Wil­liam Mor­row)

A FEW YEARS AGO, re­searchers combed through four decades of train­ing stud­ies to de­ter­mine the most ef­fec­tive type of interval workout. The sweet spot for boost­ing aer­o­bic fit­ness, they deter­mined, was re­peats that lasted three to five min­utes each. So it was a sur­prise when the leader of that team, Mayo Clinic phys­i­ol­o­gist Michael Joyner, pro­moted a very dif­fer­ent workout in a re­cent blog post.

Joyner sug­gested build­ing up to do­ing 20 x 400m with a 200m jog af­ter each re­peat. De­pend­ing on your pace, each re­peat might take some­where be­tween one and two min­utes – shorter than the ‘op­ti­mal’ length. But the ben­e­fits, he ar­gued, are ‘as much spir­i­tual or philo­soph­i­cal as they are phys­i­o­log­i­cal’. So many stops and starts de­mand a fo­cused state of mind and the phys­i­cal chal­lenge leaves you with a sense of mas­tery that you’ll bring to your next race in tip-top con­di­tion.

This type of workout has a long pedi­gree. Emil Zá­topek, who won the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon at the 1952 Olympics, re­port­edly ran 20 x 400m with 200m re­cov­er­ies ev­ery day be­fore the 1948 Olympics, with hard 200m re­peats be­fore and af­ter. Here’s how to har­ness the power of rep­e­ti­tion in your train­ing.


Start with a more mod­est workout such as 10 x 400m, and re­peat the workout ev­ery week or two, adding two to four re­peats each time. Plan to hit 20 x 400m four to six weeks be­fore a goal race. Al­ter­na­tively, if you’re fo­cused on shorter races, such as 5Ks, you might start with shorter, speed­ier in­ter­vals, pro­gress­ing from 20 x 200m to 20 x 300m to 20 x 400m, each time with a 200m jog re­cov­ery.


There’s noth­ing mag­i­cal about run­ning 20 x 400m. While the sym­me­try of run­ning one lap around the track is ap­peal­ing, you can also hit the roads or trails for a com­pa­ra­ble ses­sion, like a 20 x 1:00 hard, 1:00 easy fartlek.


Learn­ing to prop­erly dis­trib­ute your ef­fort over the course of the workout is one of the keys to suc­cess. One help­ful trick is to di­vide the workout into four sets of five re­peats each, with an ex­tra 200m of jog­ging af­ter each set. (This will also help you keep track of how many you’ve done.) Run the first set at 10K pace, then try to make each suc­ces­sive set a lit­tle quicker. Still, the over­all ef­fort should re­main con­trolled. Joyner rec­om­mends fol­low­ing the ‘no-bend-over’ rule: if you have to stop and put your hands on your knees to catch your breath be­fore start­ing your re­cov­ery jog, you’re go­ing too hard.


As hard as this workout sounds, it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that 20 x 400m only adds up to about five miles of hard run­ning – no dif­fer­ent from a com­mon workout such as five mile re­peats. The ac­tual dis­tance cov­ered isn’t the is­sue; it’s the men­tal chal­lenge of break­ing it up into so many pieces that makes it daunt­ing. That’s why Joyner em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of find­ing the right headspace, with a mix of self-con­trol, re­lax­ation and fo­cus. When you can fin­ish the workout feel­ing tired but tri­umphant, rather than shat­tered, you’ll know you are ready to race.

GOOD REP It sounds tougb – and it is – but 20 x 400m reps will build body and mind.

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