Almost 40 years after his death, the late Steve Prefontaine continues to inspire legions of American runners who aim to emulate his brash competitiveness, trademark toughness and fearless racing style.
And while most of us won’t ever run sub-13:25 for 5K or set American records like Pre did, we can incorporate one of his signature track sessions—the 30-40 Workout—into our own 5K and 10K training schedules. I first read about Pre’s 30-40 Workout in Michael Sandrock’s book, Running Tough, which describes the session as consisting of “3 miles of alternating 200 meters, run in 30 seconds, with 200 meters in 40 seconds. It is just one of the workouts in what [Prefontaine's former University of Oregon coach] Bill Dellinger calls advanced interval training.”
Obviously anyone short of an Olympic-level athlete is going to struggle with hitting these exact splits, but you can adapt the workout to suit your own speed and address your specific training needs. This session is similar to another workout I’ve written about, Deek’s Quarters. Both workouts teach you how to recover from a surge in pace while you’re still running and effectively simulate race situations where you might encounter a lot of uneven pacing.
Here’s how to make Pre’s 30-40 Workout work for you:
— Warmup: Jog 2-3 miles followed by 4-6 x 20-second strides.
— Workout: 12 continuous laps of a 400-meter track, alternating 200 meters (or half a lap) at your goal 5K pace (or slightly faster) with 200 meters 10 seconds slower than the 200 you just ran. (E.g. If your goal 5K pace is 6 minutes per mile, you would run the first 200 meters at 43-45 seconds (6:00/mi pace), followed by 200 meters in 53-55 seconds—or 1:36-1:40 for each 400m lap.)
— Cooldown: Jog 2-3 miles, stretch, refuel.
Changing gears every half lap is tricky business and doesn’t allow much margin for error from a pacing perspective. Coach Dellinger would have his athletes aim for 12 laps of alternating 200 meters at 30 seconds with 200 meters at 40 seconds but he would end their workout early if they fell off pace five or six laps into the workout. So, if 12 laps of alternating paces proves too much the first time you attempt this workout, aim for 6 or 7 laps to start. After 3-4 more weeks of consistent training, go back to the track and try it again, this time aiming to cover more laps at the same speeds. This tough track session is a good workout to repeat 3-4 times over the course of a 12-week 5K/10K training cycle, and will help you to gauge how well your fitness—and pacing skills—have progressed.