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Why I don't like 400's (for the most part) (Read 1142 times)

    400 meter repeats, due in large part to the utter simplicity of being exactly one lap of an outdoor track, are a staple of many training programs whether for high school middle distance runners or adult marathoners. I cannot tell you how many 400s I've run in my life, except to say too many. I also tend to think they are one of the most overrated and potentially dangerous workouts out there. Here's why: for most of us they are too short to be an effective VO2max workout, and they are too long to be a pure speed workout. For pure speed, I think it is important that the reps be under 60 seconds in duration--otherwise you accumulate too much lactate and instead of a speed maintenance session you wind up having a pretty deep effort. And depending upon what phase of training you are in, accumulating lactate can have some pretty negative results on aerobic capacity--that's right you'll actually get slower not faster at 5k on up if you run too many short fast reps. This is especially true for runners without a huge aerobic base. So unless you are an elite athlete who can turn 400s in around 60, 400s are too long for pure speed. For me, 300's with full recoveries are as long as I ever go for pure speed reps. For VO2Max, or interval speed (what most people think of when they say speedwork) you will improve most rapidly with intervals of 2 to 6 minutes in duration. This makes 400's a bit too short or on the very low end of the spectrum for most of us. And even if 400s fall within the 2:00 - 6:00 minute range for you, I still think they are short enough that there is too much of a chance of running them too hard and going anaerobic--with the same negative results as above. A side note about VO2Max workouts in general: I think, as others have said on these boards, that speedwork (at VO2Max) should be done in moderation, and only when a runner has a really significant base of mileage and tempos. VO2Max workouts are the ones most likely to land you on the bench and they also have the least to do with long term success at distances of 5k to the marathon. VO2Max is really most important for races in the 1500 to 5k range--and unless you are finishing 5ks in under 20 minutes, they have only limited benefit at that distance. The longer the race you are training for, the less VO2Max is a factor. While improvements to VO2Max tend to be short lived, you can make them very quickly--often just 4-6 workouts as you get close to a goal 5k is all that's needed. So the further away from your goal race you are, the less you should be doing these types of workouts anyway and the more you should be focused on easy mileage, tempos, hills etc. Finally, for runners doing less than 50 miles per week, there is a lot of evidence that simply adding more mileage has a bigger affect on VO2max than any specific workouts, and will also have the side benefit of improving aerobic endurance without the same injury risk as the VO2Max reps. So if you're running less than 50 mpw, consider adding more mileage before VO2Max workouts. None of the above is my own original ideas. I've read a lot and talked to a lot of different runners and coaches in person and on the internet over the last 6 or 7 years. The two internet coaches who've had the most direct influence on my own running were probably Joe Rubio, a California based coach and former DII or DIII All American, and another guy who goes under the moniker Tinman and was run off the Letsrun board by the thought police but has some pretty interesting ideas that I think particularly apply to "regular Joes" like me as opposed to just elites. But there have been many others, and I have put a lot of these ideas into practice in my own training and racing as well as some good old fashioned trial and error and gotten surprisingly good results at times, and I've recommended the same to others who also got good results. Today I do hardly any VO2Max work, and when I do it is generally just the last 6 weeks or so before I try to peak for races in the 5K to 10K range. VERY rarely do I run 400s and when I do it is to transition to doing some VO2Max work--I'll do 16 x 200 one week then 8 x 400 the next at 3k pace (no faster!) with equal rest in order to "get my legs ready" to do a couple of longer rep VO2Max workouts which are all I need to peak for a goal 5K. I do a lot of "high aerobic" work and have my training organized around two big runs a week, which also wind up being my two fastest runs of the week in terms of average pace. This allows me to train at a pretty high level (for me) indefinitely and then peak for specific races when the chance comes along by just tweaking a few workouts here and there. What about you? What's been your experience with 400's and VO2Max workouts in general?

    Runners run.

      Mike - you're asking for another fight thread. Roll eyes Take it over to Fight Club, eh?

      Roads were made for journeys...

        Mike - you're asking for another fight thread.
        Nope. I actually want to talk about running. Read it, gimme your thoughts.

        Runners run.

          Nope. I actually want to talk about running. Read it, gimme your thoughts.
          It's interesting. It's out of my experience range. And the title and the timing make it monkey-bait and you know it. If you get into another shouting match here I'll have to thump you as well, you know...

          Roads were made for journeys...

            Mike - you're asking for another fight thread. Roll eyes Take it over to Fight Club, eh?
            I dunno, Wingz. This is really just an opinion piece on the value of a specific type of workout. No accusations, no personalities, no names--nobody being diss'ed in his post. On the whole, I'd say fairly benign. I'm pretty sure the Court of Quirks, Peeves, and Assorted Irritants would pass on this one. In point of fact, I believe a healthy discussion on his premise would be of benefit to many runners--especially those that consider themselves less-seasoned at running. Either he has valid points or he doesn't. And if he doesn't, why not? Personally, I tend to subscribe to his philosophy. I believe that Yasso's are more effective than 400's, but the fact of the matter is that I rarely ever do track work. That, however, does not begin to mean that I have got the final answer on the subject--and I, for one, would be interested in other's thoughts on his post. I am always looking to learn and improve.
            My Masters (>50) Race PR's: 5K - 20:17 10K - 42:36 HM - 1:31:22 Marathon - 3:20:48
            Scout7


            CPT Curmudgeon

              Mike, you and I generally share similar philosophies in terms of training. First I will qualify some terms: Endurance Athlete - Anyone who trains for a time greater than 20 minutes at a time or distances of 5K or better, or any distance triathlon. Specifically we are looking at running, obviously, and this does NOT exclude anyone on this board (I hope). I personally do not see a need for 400 repeats on a track for an endurance athlete. My training philosophy is that within the first year, you should be doing almost nothing but building base mileage. The only time you should even remotely be interested in adding speed would be at a race. Without a proper base, you create too great a risk for injury, and you sell yourself short in terms of developing your CV system and building your efficiency and running economy. After about a year or so, when your build phase would start, keep getting in miles. No speed work. Soon, you add in a tempo run once a week, then two a week. My current winter training is 8 weeks of relatively easy miles, then 8 weeks of tempo running, then I start to add one session a week of either hills, intervals, or form drills. That should take me out to May. At that point, I'm getting into final stages for a June race (Philly Tri), and then race-specific training for a marathon. My hills are alternating short and high effort, or long with a slightly easier effort. My intervals are generally going to be either 800 or mile repeats. Some may be on a track, some may not be. Form drills are stuff like striders, high knees, etc. Again, your personal mileage may vary on all of this. I don't know about being overly dangerous, but from everything I've read, I don't see a need for 400m repeats for anyone doing 5k plus.
                I dunno, Wingz. This is really just an opinion piece on the value of a specific type of workout. No accusations, no personalities, no names--nobody being diss'ed in his post. On the whole, I'd say fairly benign. I'm pretty sure the Court of Quirks, Peeves, and Assorted Irritants would pass on this one. In point of fact, I believe a healthy discussion on his premise would be of benefit to many runners--especially those that consider themselves less-seasoned at running. Either he has valid points or he doesn't. And if he doesn't, why not? Personally, I tend to subscribe to his philosophy. I believe that Yasso's are more effective than 400's, but the fact of the matter is that I rarely ever do track work. That, however, does not begin to mean that I have got the final answer on the subject--and I, for one, would be interested in other's thoughts on his post. I am always looking to learn and improve.
                I agree with Pron8er on this one, it's a good discussion topic if anything else. I also lean more toward Yasso's 800s for my speed days, or mile intervals. I agree that 400 m repeats in general are not all they're cracked up to be, especially for the average runner who's races tend to be 3 miles and beyond. I'm preparing for a 10-mile race in December and I alternate every other week- one week with a solid tempo run and the next week doing speedwork (1-mile intervals or yassos). But I also have a good base to build this off of. Normally in the season, my speed training is light and not as often- while I continue to run tempo runs. As for VO2 max workouts, they're simply a way to to increase your aerobic capacity- not a bad thing. To me, 800 m repeats (at a pace 10 seconds or so faster than 5k pace) fall into that category. It should be a strong and fast workout, but not all-out. VO2 max workouts are simply speed workouts shorter than a tempo run but longer than your sprint to the fridge for a beer (that's a workout right? Smile). It was good to hear your opinion Mike. I especially found this quote interesting: "Finally, for runners doing less than 50 miles per week, there is a lot of evidence that simply adding more mileage has a bigger affect on VO2max than any specific workouts, and will also have the side benefit of improving aerobic endurance without the same injury risk as the VO2Max reps." That makes a lot of sense, thanks for your insight.
                "The woods are lovely dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep." - Robert Frost
                  Big grin Sometimes I love being wrong. Big grin Thanks for the start of an interesting discussion, guys.

                  Roads were made for journeys...

                  Scout7


                  CPT Curmudgeon

                    Ok, so, does anyone know of a plan that recommends 400s?
                    vicentefrijole


                      I especially found this quote interesting: "Finally, for runners doing less than 50 miles per week, there is a lot of evidence that simply adding more mileage has a bigger affect on VO2max than any specific workouts, and will also have the side benefit of improving aerobic endurance without the same injury risk as the VO2Max reps." That makes a lot of sense, thanks for your insight.
                      I almost didn't read MM's initial post (after all, we've had a LOT of long-winded talking from a variety of players lately that have left me with very little valuable information... sort of reminds me of recent campaigning for the US midterms?). But I'm glad I did. That was very informative and well-written, MM. Thanks. That quote (above) also caught my eye. It seems like a valid premise and I'll have to think about what it might mean for my training. Thanks again for the info. Big grin By the way, (MM or anyone else), is there a marathon training book (or genearl running book) that you would recommend? I recently read and trained from Pfitzinger & Douglas' Advanced Marathoning and i think I got a lot out of it (and still have a lot more to learn from it, yet). Any other gems out there I should know about?
                      Scout7


                      CPT Curmudgeon

                        If you can, read Arthur Lydiard's book. There's two versions, and the names are escaping me right now, but if you Google for it... Also, Jack Daniel's book is pretty good, too.
                          Agreed, Daniels Running Formula is good--I don't own it but have borrowed it and looked through it. It's a bit technical. There are some charts in the back that are useful. There's one that shows a mileage pyramid similar to the food pyramid we all know and love with aerobic mileage at the bottom making the biggest slice of the pyramid (Long, Steady, Easy and Recovery.) Then the next slice up is LT (what he calls Threshold or Cruise.) Above that is VO2max (he calls VO2max intervals). Pure speed (which he calls >VO2max / economy) is at the very top making the smallest slice of the pyramid. The interesting thing about Daniels is he defines the space between these slices of the pyramid as no mans land--having limited training value. I have never read Advanced Marathoning but I have a copy of Road Racing for Serious runners, also by Pfitzinger and Douglas. It's pretty good for defining the basic energy systems and workouts to maximize them, but I don't use the schedules. It has one chapter on the marathon but I'm sure doesn't go near the level of detail that AM does. The marathon is not my primary focus so that's good enough for me.

                          Runners run.

                            Interesting stuff, Mike. I agree with what you say here. A speed workout that really works for me is 10x400 continuous at marathon-ish pace (6:20-6:30 pace for me), with 100 of each 400 fast but controlled--like a pre-race stride (16-17s for me). I find that this kind of work helps maintain quickness and turnover without damaging aerobic capacity. And, it teaches you to be able to shift into a faster gear when running at a steady clip. It's difficult, but doesn't leave me torn up for the next day of training. You might start out with 6x400 and work up to 10 (or more!). Any excuse not to run 400's is good for me. They hurt. Like you, I ran tons of them in high school (I remember one dreadful workout of 16x400 at 5k race pace), and while they might have been good for developing mental toughness, I'm not so sure about their physiological benefits. Thanks for the insights.
                            Scout7


                            CPT Curmudgeon

                              Jeff, Your 400s sound like drills, which I would agree are definitely beneficial. I would say you could probably incorporate more, too, like high knees, or toe flicks.
                                Scout7, They are kind of like drills, and I think they have the same positive effects for form, but you also end up getting 1000m of work at mile race pace as well as 2.5 miles of work at around aerobic threshold pace (300m at 6:20 pace + 100m in 16s = 400m in 88, which is 5:52 pace done the hard way). All this is done continuously. So, this is (I think) a workout, with drill-like aspects. Smile BTW, I learned this workout from a guy who studied under Lydiard.
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