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Try This Killer 4x400m Workout

Peter Larson RunningOne of the things I love about working with Coach Caleb is that he always keeps my training interesting. Each weekend I get a training plan with workouts for the coming week, and the speed/quality work in particular is always varied. It might be track intervals, a tempo run, hill repeats/sprints, or some other form of delightful torture.

Last week when I opened up my training plan email I saw the following workout on the schedule:

Wednesday: 8 miles total. Warm and cool splits are up to you. Include the normal drills and strides in the warm-up. For the speedy stuff, run 4 x 400 with 1600 slow jog recovery (about 1 minute per mile slower than normal easy pace). Each 400 should be at about 95% effort, essentially the best you can do. This is a true speed workout. Don’t hold back!

When I first read it I thought about emailing Caleb – 4×400 didn’t seem like very much, especially considering that I did 16×200 a few weeks ago. And the 1600m rest interval between reps seemed kind of long. I’ve done 400m track workouts many times in the past, but usually run the reps around 5K pace or a bit faster. But the 95% effort thing jumped out as a new twist. I figured Caleb knows what he’s doing, so I planned to do the workout as specified. I vastly underestimated how difficult it would turn out to be!

If you’ve ever tried to run 400m all-out, you’ll know where I’m going with this post. I ran my first ever timed 400m on the track last year during the Craftsbury running camps. It was pretty cool to be timed by an Olympian (Lynn Jennings), and I managed my best 400 of the three weeks of camps in 64 seconds. It was hard, and the second half of an all-out 400 is a time when you learn a bit about your pain tolerance.

I drove myself over to the track on Wednesday and ran a 3-mile warmup at easy pace. If you want to try this workout you may not need a full three miles of warmup, but if I was going to be running fast I wanted to make sure I was nice and loose. I hit the track and took off on my first rep. I figured if 100% effort is 64 seconds, then 95% effort should be just a bit slower than that. It felt great to let it fly, but by 200m I was reminded of the world of pain that running a hard 400m can create. One lap of the track doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re almost maxing out the speed it’s incredibly difficult. I completed the first 400 in 70 seconds, so right about what I was aiming for. It hurt.

I decided to walk 200m to bring my heart rate down, then jogged the remaining 1200 at about 9:30 min/mile as Caleb suggested (my easy pace is around 8:30). I was a little scared after that first rep so I took my time.

I repeated the routine three more times, clocking 400s of 72, 73, and 72 seconds. I may have thrown up in my mouth at the end of the last one. I suppose that might be a sign of a good speed session!

This was one of those workouts that you finish and it gives you a sense of accomplishment. It was a taxing workout, but it felt good. I felt like I gained something from it. And the next day my legs were sore, but they actually feel a bit looser than they have in awhile – maybe something about the speed knocked some of the rust out.

If you’re looking to try some speed work this workout might be a “fun” one to try, I highly recommend it :)

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a biology teacher, track/soccer coach, and dad (x3) with a passion for running, soccer, and science. If you'd like to learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do, click here, or visit


  1. I used to dread speed work but in recent months, it’s become my favorite running-related workout. There’s really no getting around the physical discomfort of going all-out (or near all-out), but the feeling of flying down a track makes it worthwhile. There’s an element of kid-like playfulness to the whole thing that makes it a lot of fun for me.

  2. Interesting workout! I have one quibble with the definition though – 95% is a hard effort but is nothing like all-out. If you go by speed, for someone with a 1 mile PR of 6:00, 95% effort is 6:19. If you go by heart rate, 95% effort is about 10 beats below max HR. That’s a significant difference. I’d describe the workout you did as more like 98-99% effort.

  3. That is a great VO2 Max Workout assuming the 95% was of vVo2Max! Real Bread and butter but it does hurt like hell

  4. No pain, no gain. Great post. It’s been a long time since I hit the track. Maybe I should try it out. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Cody R. says:

    i need to do this at some point

    mark sisson mentioned something on his blog about a “break out” workout

    something that involves an activity that pushes you to your limit which can, when done hard but not to where you break yourself, improve your fitness and allow you to either keep improving and/or break a plateau,

    i’m assuming this could be one of them :D

  6. Ha, the old 95%. When I want my kids I train to run hard I tell them 95%. I find when I tell them to run 95 they run faster than if I tell them all out.

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