WHY I CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THEM–AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU.
Since high school, I’ve loved running quarters. There’s just something beautiful about running one lap of the track fast, taking a recovery break, then doing it again. I’ve certainly lost count of how many times I’ve run quarters, but they’ll always be one of my favorite ways to whip my body and mind into shape, particularly for spring 5Ks and 10Ks.
A throwback to when tracks were a quarter-mile around instead of the 400m of modern tracks, quarters are one of the most versatile workouts coaches and athletes can include in their training programs. I use them to develop multiple energy systems. I adjust the volume (total number of quarters run in a workout), the intensity (the pace of each quarter) and the recovery jogs (the time between quarters) to challenge an athlete’s stamina, speed and/or sprinting ability. Here are some examples.
Stamina training challenges the lactate threshold–the pace where you begin to produce more lactic acid than your muscles can remove. For most runners, the lactate threshold occurs at the pace you can race for 1 hour–10K to 15K race pace for most of us, half marathon race pace for the fleetest. To improve your lactate threshold, research shows that you should train a bit faster than the threshold (around your 30-minute race pace) to slightly slower than it (around your 90-minute race pace). For Stamina Quarters, you want to stay on the fast end of this spectrum, your 30-minute race pace. You also want to keep the recovery jogs relatively short–usually one-third to one-half the duration of the fast laps.
My favorite Stamina Quarters workout is 20 x 400m with a 100m jog between. Running 20 quarters will provide most runners with the recommended 20 to 40 minutes of time spent in the stamina-improvement zone, which will significantly improve your lactate threshold. This is also a great workout to help you learn patience. If you go too fast in the early quarters then you won’t be able to complete the workout. Keep it controlled and just cruise along.
Speed Quarters are what most of us who ran in high school and college think about when we think of quarters. The pace is around your VO2 max pace (race pace for 8 to 12 minutes), and the recovery jogs are usually the same duration as the time it takes to run the quarter. For example, if you run your Speed Quarters in 85 seconds, then you would take 85 seconds to recover between each repeat. This will often equal about 200m of slow jogging.
My favorite Speed Quarters workout is 8-12 x 400m at VO2 max pace with a 200m jog between. This workout provides 8-15 minutes of running at your VO2 max pace–which will improve, you guessed it, your VO2 max–or the maximum amount of oxygen your body can utilize in a minute.
The key here is to run fast but under control in the first few repeats. Fatigue will set in as you near the last few (just as fatigue sets in as you near the last few minutes of a race), so you’ll need to up your effort level as you get deeper into the workout to stay on pace.
Next month I’ll describe my two other favorite quarter workouts. In the meantime, hit the track!
If I’ve inspired you to try the workouts in this article, insert one the next time your schedule calls for a lactate threshold workout (Stamina Quarters) or VO2 max session (Speed Quarters). Be sure to preface them with a proper warm-up and finish with an appropriate cool-down, especially if you don’t run these types of workouts often.
If you live in an area where there are no tracks, or, as is increasingly the unfortunate case, all the tracks are locked up and not available to the public, then you can convert the workouts to time. For example, the Stamina Quarters workout could be 20 times 80 seconds at 30-minute race pace with a 25-second recovery jog between. Ideally, you’ll find a flat, level stretch of road or bike path where you can concentrate on running the right pace rather than navigating hills and turns and avoiding traffic.