RW's Definitive Serious Speedwork: 400m Sessions

The very best one-lap sessions


Posted: 1 June 2000
by Steve Smythe

One lap of a standard athletics track, 400m efforts make a simple stock session for shorter-distance racing, but are also a good work-out for anyone looking to improve their pure speed. 1500m specialists will probably run 8-10 repetitions at their race pace, while top 10,000m and marathon runners will run up to 25 with a much shorter recovery.

Below, we list suggested speeds for your efforts according to your best 10K time of the last 12 months, with the equivalent 400m time in brackets. (Adjust the speeds proportionately if your exact 10K time isn’t listed.) Below that, there are some different 400m sessions for variety.

  Standard Strength Speed
Repetition 10 x 400m 12-15 x 400m 8 x 400m
Recovery 200m jog/90 secs 100m jog/45-60 secs 400m jog/3 mins
Best 10K (/400m)      
35 (84.0) 78 80 75
40 (96.0) 90 92 87
45 (1:48) 1:42 1:44 1:39
50 (2:00) 1:54 1:56 1:51
55 (2:12) 2:06 2:08 2:03
60 (2:24) 2:18 2:20 2:15
65 (2:36) 2:30 2:32 2:27

Variation 1:
Run 8 x 400m with three-minute recoveries. Method A: run the first 200m at 10K pace and then pick up five seconds over the second 200m. Method B: to develop greater acceleration, run the first 200m at or around 10-mile pace and then pick up around 10 seconds on your second 200m.

Best 10K (/400m) 400m time 200m splits Method A 200m splits Method B
35 (84.0) 79/80 42/37 45/35
40 (96.0) 91/92 48/43 51/41
45 (1:48) 1:43/1:44 54/49 57/47
50 (2:00) 1:55/1:56 60/55 63/53
55 (2:12) 2:07/2:08 66/61 69/59
60 (2:24) 2:19/2:20 72/67 75/65
65 (2:36) 2:31/2:32 78/73 81/71

Variation 2:
A further option (and the most difficult) is to reduce the recoveries. Start the second 400m three minutes after you started the first, then 2:45, then 2:30, then 2:15 etc. A runner capable of a 90-second 400m will manage seven, and a 75-second runner will manage eight. Try keeping the pace even and avoid getting into serious oxygen debt until the final repetition.

Variation 3:
The final option is to accelerate throughout the 400m. The first 100m is relaxed (close to half-marathon pace), the second at 10K pace, the third at 3K to 5K pace, and the last 100m inside mile pace.

Best 10K (/400m) 100m 200m 300m 400m Total
35 (84.0) 23 21 19 17 80
40 (96.0) 26 24 22 20 92
45 (1:48) 29 27 25 23 1:44
50 (2:00) 32 30 28 26 1:56
55 (2:12) 35 33 31 29 2:08
60 (2:24) 38 36 34 31 2:20
65 (2:36) 41 39 37 33 2:32

To improve your ability to run at anaerobic threshold, slightly reduce the number of repetitions and immediately follow the repetitions with a sustained steady effort of 10-20 minutes at around 10-mile race pace. Because you will probably experience more oxygen debt and lactic acid build-up from the accelerated efforts, you might find this easier to do after more traditional intervals.


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