Welcome to the first installment of workout wednesday. I will focus mostly on interval workouts in these posts. Today I want to talk about one of my favorite sessions. I call them Australian quarters. Some call them Deek's quarters session after their most famous practitioner. Robert DeCastella, aka Deek.
They are an invention of Deek's coach Pat Clohessy, himself a world class runner in his day, and were a staple for most of Pat's runners traditionally done every thursday. Done throughout the training cycle and across events with subtle adjustments to meet the time of the season and the event being focused on.
First a few facts about Deek, a four time Olympian who was overall the finest marathoner of the 1980's. He had a lifetime marathon best of 2:07:51 set winning the Boston Marathon, but he produced a half dozen sub 2:09's and a bunch of 2:10 and 2:11 efforts over the years. He won the world championships marathon in 1983 and finished in the top 10 in three Olympics. Additionally he ran world class performances in cross country, on the roads and was a sub 28 sub 13:30 man on the track. All of this despite being a rather stocky man with very limited speed.
The workout is very basic. You run 8x400m with a 200m QUICK jog before EVERY repetition including the first one. This means that you will cover 3 miles during the workout when the rest is included. The trick is that the 200's must be run at a solid pace. Somewhere around what you run on your fastest regular training runs or even a bit faster. This session is sneaky tough but by forcing the pace of the recoveries it leads to enormous gains in latic threshold and race specific speed.
I have an friend who early in indoor track his senior year in high school had a PB in the mid 4:30's for the mile. On a recruiting visit he joined some red shirt athletes in a workout, behind the coaches back obviously, and they happened to be doing Aussie Quarters. The plan was to do the 400s in 70 and the rests in 45. My friend was surprised it was so slow he often did 400 repeats faster than 70 and 200 rest seem like quite. Still he knew these red shirts had all run miles under 4:20, much much faster than he had ever approached. He said the first rep felt easy as expected and the second seem pretty much the same. He said as they started the third he had this feeling like he hadn't recovered at all and he barely survived the rep. The fourth rep was his last by 200m he was off the back and as he crawled in to a mid 70's finish he knew his day was over.
He went home very humbled. But this young man was not one to take a defeat as a negative. He examined the workout and decided that he should be able to do it. 45second rests were 6min mile pace which he routinely ran on training runs and 70's were pretty relaxed for 400 reps. He talked to his coach and they decided to attempt this session once a week until he could master it. The results?
Over the first month or more he struggled but finally he found a way to approach the workout that lead to him finishing the workout and getting closer and closer to his goal. During the outdoor season he master the workout and as the weeks went by his times plummeted and by the end of the season he ran 4:15 mile.
The part that my friend missed when he first heard about this session was just how fast that rest makes it. 70 plus 45 is 600m in 1:55. That means running this workout involves running 3 miles in 15:20! Which was about as fast as he had ever run in cross country. This workout forces you to learn to truly relax at both your rep speed and your recovery speed. There is no faking it or lying to yourself. Believe me I have tried and it has without exception lead to me not finishing the workout.
How fast? Well in his training book Deek says if you run under 14:30 for the whole workout it is time to find a race as you are super fit, under 15:00 is bread and butter you are doing well. Over 15:30 and it was time for him to get blood work done as something must be wrong. However Deek was a 2:07 marathoner! Personally my goal is to break 15:00 and my fastest ever session was around 14:30 and I have qualified for the world championships.
So what should you do? Well generally speaking your reps should be at 3k to 5k race pace, as slow as 10k pace if you are getting ready for a marathon. Your rest pace should be as slow as a quick training run. This is a great place to start or to even keep the pace if you are training for 3k to 5k racing. If you are looking to a longer race than you should drop your rest pace down towards 95% of marathon pace or even in the final weeks before a marathon very close to marathon pace.
When should you do this workout? This is one of those rare workouts that can with a little adjustment be done pretty much year round, as long as you have access to a track. It can be adjusted to be a fairly easy session in the base and early season and you can really crank it down to be a monster late in the season. The biggest advantage of this over traditional intervals is the faster reps make it a very very aerobic battle. In HS I routinely ran 8x400m in 65 seconds or faster, often with very short standing rests but I never came close to averaging 70 seconds per 400m for a 2 mile, 9:20. Why? I was teaching my body to get very good at fast reps but that isn't the test it was taking. It was trying to run very fast for 2 to 3 miles continuously. This workout teaches your body to do that. I have no doubt that if I had replaced my faster 400 reps with aussie quarters at 70 and worked on getting the rest 200 down towards 45 I would have easily run 9:20 or better.
What system does it work? Really it would be easier to answer what system it doesn't work. This type of session is obviously anaerobic. It is most directly tied to latic threshold. But the recoveries make you super efficient at marathon pace and a bit slower which is aerobic training to a t. Athletes who do a lot of workouts like this traditionally move to the marathon with far greater ease than normal.