Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Workout Wednesday Australian Quarters

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.


Craig McMahon said...

This has long been one of my favorite sessions (though, strictly speaking, the "real" name for this workout is Keene Quarters- it was invented by Peter Thomas and stolen by Pat Clohessy, who had the nerve to steal it some 10 years before Pete got around to inventing it).

Curiously, Nate, even though in college I raced much better over the mile/800 than I did over 5k/cross, this session was always relatively easy for me. I rarely had an issue doing the float parts correctly, but was relatively ineffective at races much longer than the 3k.

Now that I'm back in what I jokingly call "semi-un-retirement" I find sessions like this (and related ones like 1min-hard/1min-float fartleks) extremely useful.

How do you think the overall time for this workout correlates to say, one's preparation for racing a 5k or 10k? How would an individual runner's strengths/weaknesses change that?

GZ said...

Great write up of this classic session. I first got word of this one from Sandrock in "Running With the Legends."

Sandrock shared with me another Deek workout. It consisted of a longer hill effort (the actual hill was about 1.3-4 miles) with about 300 feet of climb - so not too steep, and actually one that you could roll and make hurt with some turn over. Then jog down to another hill (about a quarter mile jog). Do 8 x 200(ish) on a hill there hard with about equal recovery. These are about 10% grade hills.

Crawl home.

Deek was a tough dude. said...

Craig I had actually talk to Pete about this session before and it was fun how blissfully unaware he was that a very famous runner had made this simple workout very famous.
GZ Deek was a beast. He averaged a 135 miles a week for 5 years before his breakout 2:08:16 at Fukuoka, #2 all time when he ran it. As someone who has done some crazy high miles let me tell you to AVERAGE 135 for any length of time is brutally hard. 5 years? ungodly. I mean if you get food poisoning and miss a day so you 'only' run 110 that week you have to do a 170 mile week to balance it out. Never mind if you say taper for and recover from a marathon!

GZ said...

170 a week, without worrying about a GPS, fat adaptation, minimalist shoes, concern about adrenal fatigue, altitude training, etc.

Just amazing. said...

GZ- Rob was a badass for sure though it should be mentioned he was a big proponent and practitioner of altitude training. He would go to Victoria Falls for stints and later would spend large parts of his year in Boulder, CO.

Craig McMahon said...

I'd also point out at some point in his career, Deek gave up caffeine because he was concerned about it affecting his adrenal levels (per Michael Sandrock's Training with the Legends book).

Unknown said...

Your writing has driven me to grow to love Alternation sessions. If my target race is the 1500/Mile, should I be adjusting this session to do it during the specific phase? Should it just be used earlier in the season to build strength? said...

that is a really good question. I know Simon Doyle, who ran 3:31 and 3:49 in the late 80's and early 90's was a Clohessy or Wardlaw guy I believe. I know he did things a bit differently but I don't know a ton. I presume that during the base phase there wouldn't be a ton of difference in how you would approach the Aussie Quarters. I would however suggest that you should probably do the 8x200 fast/200 float every other week instead. Even in the base phase I would suggest that these 200s should be pretty close to mile pace.
I would also suggest that a session like the 12 laps of 100/100 sprint/float/sprint they used to do would be a key weekly session.
The little bit I found on Doyle also seems to suggest that he did a ton of 170m hills.
Now to your exact question. My assumption is that you would do both the 200's and the regular Aussies. I would suggest that you would focus on really rocking the speed of the reps as you got into the specific phase. So for the 400's in the base you would run 3k to 5k pace but you might try to get to mile pace by the time you were closing in on your goal races and with that the floats might become a more normal jog. The 200's are a more interesting proposition. I could see an argument for rocking those pretty fast as that would be a way to drive the latic acid up but I would also really see the focus being trying to run mile pace with the recovery jogs just 10s slower. IE like Oregon running the 30/40 for two miles showing you were ready to break 4 in the mile. My gut says that is the better idea. Though I would suggest that at the same time you should be mixing in some FAST short stuff on the track and maybe some FAST medium length, 150m to 200m, hills to target driving up your anaerobic threshold. I'll search a bit and see if I can find more details on what milers would do for alternations.

Unknown said...

Thanks Nate, I've had to keep pretty low mileage due to some injury history, so I really focus on getting the right quality and adequate recovery. Your enthusiasm over sharing running your knowledge is unmatched.