Give this workout a shot when transitioning back into track training.
At the end of 2005, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week training in Monterey, Calif., with Team-USA Monterey Bay, coached by the legendary Bob “Sev” Sevene, a New England native like myself who had trained and mentored my coach at the time, Kevin Curtin.
Sev’s now defunct post-collegiate training group, which included up-and-coming professionals such as Ryan Bak, James Carney, Fasil Bizuneh and Olympian Blake Russell, amongst others, was beginning its early preparations for the upcoming spring racing season. Before heading out to California, Kevin — who coached New Balance Boston at the time — let me know what to expect in terms of workouts from his former mentor, whose methods had a strong and obvious influence on our own team’s training protocol.
“If I know Sev like I think I do, he’ll have those guys on the track early in the week doing three sets of 400, 400, 800 at around 5K pace,” Kevin told me. “He might even finish with a mile. Don’t do anything stupid.”
Sure enough, Kevin’s prediction for the workout was spot on, and of course I did something stupid and ran too fast for the first two sets of intervals, causing me to opt out of finishing the workout with a mile.
Ever curious, I asked Sev a lot of questions over lunch after the session: Why did we do this workout? Why 5K pace? Why the longer rest between sets? Why only three sets?
Sev, whose gruff, matter-of-fact voice has a way of leaving an immediate impression on you, explained to me that this was a great workout for “molding the tissues” and re-introducing faster running at the beginning of a training cycle. Three to three and a half miles worth of work at your target 5K race pace, broken up into shorter reps with longer rest, is the perfect introductory workout for returning to regular training on the track. It provides just enough of an aerobic stimulus, helps you regain some semblance of turnover and rhythm in your stride, and gets your body used to taking left turns again at a faster pace. Done properly, this workout shouldn’t beat you up so much that you’re wrecked for days afterward.
As a coach, this workout has become a go-to before my athletes begin doing any sort of regular speed work on the track. Keeping things under control in terms of pace and recovery is key to making this session a success. While you might be tempted to run faster than 5K pace, shorten the rest, or otherwise try to make this workout a little more challenging, remember that it is not meant to be a real ball-buster. Save those for later in the training cycle.
The Sev Special
Workout: 3 sets of 400m, 400m, 800m @ target 5K race pace, with 1:30-2:00 recovery after the 400m reps and 3:00 after the 800s.
Variations: For beginners, start with two sets if you’re not used to doing workouts on the track. Advanced runners can substitute the 800 in the last set with a mile at target 5K pace.
Cooldown: Run easily for 10-20 minutes, stretch, refuel.