In the first of our series on the 10 favourite training sessions used by our Australian distance running greats, Robert de Castella talks about his Thursday night track session that he feels made a world of difference.
Robert de Castella
The Session: 8x400m with 200m float.
Time Deek took: 400m reps in 62-64sec and 200m floats in 40sec – around 14min-14.30 in total.
Deek began doing what became his stock-standard Thursday night session at Olympic Park when he left school at Xavier College in 1975.
His coach Pat Clohessy would be on hand to time the group that included Chris Wardlaw, Max Little, Len Johnson, John “Axe” Axsentieff and on occasions Tim O’Shaughnnesy and Dave Chettle among others. Wardlaw had devised the session with former national cross country champion Bruce Jones after reading that US distance great Frank Shorter did 15x400m with 100m jog. Wardlaw felt Shorter's session was too hard and lost the intensity and modified it back to 8x400m with 200m floats.
While Deek has since moved to Canberra, Wardlaw would continue on the 8x400m tradition with his own training group for the next three decades.
“There’s a lot of benefit in doing the same session weekly rather than changing because it becomes a benchmark for you to use to see how you are going.
It was 12 laps in total, but it wasn’t like a 5km time trial. When you run the 400m reps, you have to surge and get up on your toes so that you get closer to your anaerobic threshold.
Always we’d finish our 400ms puffing (62 to 64secs) and have lactic buildup, but then you couldn’t slacken off because the float (about 40 sec)was definitely not a jog. The float was all about teaching your body to quickly get rid of the lactic that you metabolise. The last 400m was flat out, giving anything you had left, often running in 60sec or faster.
We’d do a 5-7km warm-up (usually around the Tan), then two laps of strides on the track to loosen up. We’d do the session in spikes, which links in with the barefoot running movement at the moment because spikes have very little support and you run more freely.
On paper it may not seem that hard a session and I’ve heard some marathoners telling me that they do 20x400m, but I think that’s way too much.
For me, the session was more about the cumulative effect. It came after two really solid days of training. On Tuesday we did hills, on Wednesday we’d run 30km.
And we’d do it 52 weeks of the year, with the exception being the Thursday before a race, when I’d do a lighter sharper session, often just 6 to 8 x 200m, with a 200m jog.
Tip for other distance runners
For many runners, the session will be too demanding to jump into.
Deek recommends starting out doing just 4x400m with a 200m float and then as you get fitter, building up to 6x400m before taking on the full version. The key is to remember recovery 200m runs are a float, not a jog.