Workouts

Workout of the Week: 800/400 Pacing Sets

This simple but challenging interval session hones control and toughness by kicking your butt if you get the pacing wrong.

This is one of my favorite workouts to practice pacing control — which is important at the beginning of a race. If you run the 800 in each set too quickly then you will be unable to hit the prescribed effort for the 400.

Having to run faster at the end of each set also teaches pushing on tired legs, which is both a physical and mental exercise.

This is a great workout for the track but can also easily be run on the roads/trails. I have a marked 800 meter road loop on rolling terrain that I like to use for this workout as it mimics road racing well.

Workout Summary

Three to four sets of:

  • 800 meters @ 10K perceived effort
  • 60 seconds timed recovery
  • 400 meters @ 5K perceived effort
  • 2 minutes timed recovery
men and woman running intervals on the track
Photo: Kevin Claffey @forerunner555

Workout Description

The key component in executing this workout correctly is the rest interval after the 800 meters. It is important to stick to the 60 seconds recovery as this will keep you “in check” for not running the 800 too quickly.

Perceived effort is also key: Most of the athletes that I coach are adults with very busy work and family schedules. We meet early in the morning and/or the evening. I have found that if I give them specific paces to hit that it often leads to injury. Specific times can also have the opposite effect for some: They may be ready to make the next “jump” in their fitness and to run workouts at a faster pace, but they limit themselves with a set given pace.

How it Fits Into a Training Plan

I usually start with three sets at the beginning of a training buildup for the 5K or 10K, with the goal of being able to do four sets as we approach race date. Typically, the first time athletes run this workout, their 800 meter repeat in the third set is significantly slower than their split in the first set, due to going out too quickly in the beginning. Once the runner is consistent with the 800 in all three sets, then I introduce a fourth set.

Depending on how the group handles the workout, I also change the effort levels as the training plan progresses, working up to running the 800s at 5K perceived effort and the 400s at “hard” perceived effort.

About the Author

Jenny Spangler won the 1996 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon. She coaches runners of all abilities both online and in group settings throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.