Sprint Quarters and Combo Quarters



Last month, I wrote about two of my favorite “quarter” (one lap of the track) workouts: Stamina Quarters and Speed Quarters. Here I detail my other two favorite quarter workouts: Sprint Quarters and Combo Quarters.


The sprint zone is, well, your sprinting pace. For most runners, Sprint Quarters are run at your 2-to 6-minute race pace with long recoveries. Obviously, running this fast will cause a huge increase in lactate production and challenge your body to remove it before you begin the next repeat. We coaches call this a lactic-acid tolerance workout. My favorite Sprint Quarters workout is 4 x 400m with 400m-600m recovery jogs.

There are many benefits from running Sprint Quarters: improved running economy, better running form and improved ability to tolerate lactic acid. This is a stressful workout, especially for athletes not accustomed to running at these fast paces, so ease into these workouts. That said, it’s also one fun workout. There’s nothing like challenging yourself at your top-end speed, so get out there and have some fun on the track.


Many coaches prescribe workouts that would be classified as Combo Quarters. A Combo Quarter workout includes quarters from multiple training zones (stamina, speed and/or sprint).

A Combo Quarters workout that I frequently prescribe is 12-16 x 400m. I break the workout into three sets of 4 x 400m. The first set of quarters is run at Stamina Quarters pace (the fastest pace you can hold for 30 minutes), and you jog 100m between repeats. After the first set, jog 400m, then begin the second set, in which you increase your pace by 2 seconds per quarter. Take 200m jogs between quarters and a 400m jog after the second set.

For the third set, increase your pace by 2 more seconds per quarter (4 seconds per quarter faster than your starting pace). In this set, take 400m jogs between quarters. The same follows for the optional fourth set–you increase your pace 2 more seconds faster per quarter. This will be very fast running, especially given that you’ll be tired from the previous 12 quarters.

As I said last month, there’s just something beautiful about running one lap of the track fast. As you get into spring 5K and 10K racing, I encourage you to insert one of these fun quarters workouts into your training plan. Once each week or every other week for four to eight weeks can add some zip to your stride and will likely improve your race times.


Before you lace ’em up and head to the track to crank some quarters, a few cautions:

  1. Start Easy – This is especially true with Speed and Sprint quarters. It’s best to have a few speed workouts under your belt before you jump into these workouts. See my The Lost Art of Fartlek.
  2. Relax – A key to running fast is relaxing. As you perform these workouts, focus not only on how fast you’re running but on how relaxed you can be while running fast.
  3. Form – One aspect of running fast is that your form is challenged and technique errors are amplified. As you run these fast repeats, make sure you commit to good running form. Running fast is one thing, but running fast while maintaining good form is the whole enchilada, as they say.
  4. Warm Up Well – Many of us are time-crunched, but quarters demand a proper warm-up. Do 15 to 20 minutes of easy running plus some drills and strides before you launch into your first repeat. You’ll want to have a good sweat going and your heart rate and breathing elevated as you begin these workouts.

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Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

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