The 400 is a Thing of Beauty. No, Really!

A few weeks ago, Jus’ Running started offering track workouts on Tuesday mornings in addition to their normal Tuesday evenings.  With the weather being so hot lately and my husband having to work tonight, going to track this morning was great.  There were about 15 of us and there were a lot of new faces, which is always great to see.  Not everyone can or likes running in the evenings, so this is a good option for morning people (like me!).

The key to interval workouts is consistency.  You are learning to pace yourself and keep control at high speeds. Anyone can blast out a few fast reps, but if you cannot maintain your pace through the end, you are missing the point.  The first third should feel relatively easy (while still running hard, paradoxically) and the last set should feel about at your limit, but not to the point that you couldn’t do one more if you had to.  A 200 meter recovery is long enough to catch your breath and slow your heart rate some, but it’s not so long that you feel completely fresh or totally stiff.  The challenge is holding back when you feel good and pushing when you don’t– clearly the opposite of what your brain is telling you to do.

The workout today was simple, if not easy (are any of them easy?).  All intervals of 400 meters, or one lap around the track, broken up into three sets.  In between each lap, there was a half lap or 200 meter jog recovery.  In between each set, we got treated to an entire recovery lap (such a luxury!).  The first set was four 400s, the second was five, and the last was four.

The beautiful thing about 400s is the symmetry: curve, straight, curve, straight. You start where you finish.  There’s no annoying left over half lap like a 600.  It’s not an all-out sprint like a 200. There’s much less mental focus required than in an 800, where you have to pass your finishing spot when you’re only half done.  With 400s, there’s very little math involved, which is helpful when you’re too tired to think!

In a 400, you have time to settle into your pace once you go around the first curve and then can pick up speed as you straighten out.  At the halfway point, you start to curve again and get a glimpse of where you stop.  Being able to see the finish line is a such powerful mental cue where you can tell your mind that you are almost done, so you might as well go a little harder.

My splits today were:  1:24, 1:26,1:24,1:23, 1:26, 1:25, 1:29, 1:24, 1:23, 1:25, 1:26, 1:22, 1:24.  Not perfectly consistent, but not terrible and I really tried to hammer the second to last one.  A lot of my speed workouts for my last training plan called for me to go as hard as I could at the second-to-last interval.  I’m not completely sure of the reasoning behind it, but I went with it.

The 1:22 is symbolic for me because it translates to 5:30 min/mile.  My mile PR is 5:35 and that was on a downhill course.  I would love to see what I could do on a track and that would mean four 400s plus nine more meters at that pace.  From this workout, it looks like I have a shot at it, but it will take everything I’ve got.  Conveniently, there is a mile track race coming up this Saturday.  I have been planning to run it for a while, but another commitment has come up, so I’ll probably have to make a last-minute decision on that one.

This would be a great workout to run again later in the summer to see how I progress.  Unlike running a 400, I hope I finish beyond where I started.

 

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