Once a Runner: Ch 32 The Interval Workout

In Books, Once a Runner on November 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm

One of my favorite books on the shelf is “Once a Runner” by John L Parker.  Runner’s World has called it the best running book of all time.  I rank it amongst my all-time favorite books not just running books.  I recently re-read and re-listened to my favorite chapters.   You see if I really like a book, not only will I buy the hardcover (it’s got to be hardcover) but I also bought it on Audible.  I must admit there is some about listening to someone narrate a book after you’ve already read it.  Perhaps it’s the different intonations or maybe it’s the change in pitch they do when there is dialogue. It’s nice having a book read to you. Just saying!

On this occasion I am in awe of Chapter 32 Intervals.  If you haven’t read the book then stop reading but it is an amazing piece of prose.  In this chapter, the hero Quenton Cassidy has abandoned all norms of social life, living in the woods in an environment only Thoreau would understand (Was Thoreau a runner?) His mentor, his teacher Bruce Denton has built up anticipation in the young students mind.

It starts with 20 x 440s in sets of 5 with 110 yard rest jogs in between.  The speed at which he is suppose to get to is 62 or 63 seconds per ¼ mile. This works out to 4:12 pace.  Parker was careful in his setup of this pace as an earlier training run with a young upstart Jack Nubbins was at around this pace, easy for Cassidy but difficult for Nubbins.

Do the math! 4 sets of 5 x 440 yards is 5 miles add to that the 110 yard rest intervals in between reps and the 440 yards of rest in between sets or another half a mile.  That would be the five miles in 21 minutes.  Let’s say the interval rests he does at half speed maybe 10 minute pace (Just for kicks!) Grand total for the first set is 36 minutes and he just ran over 10K at run/walk intervals (6.75 miles).  Jeff Galloway probably never knew it could be so fast using his run/walk method.  It is credible don’t you think? People run low 30s in everyday fun runs (Just not me!)

Okay I know what you are thinking.  “Rob, it’s fiction! It’s only a book”.  Yes it’s only a book but a believable book.  Parker laces his tome with endless believable workouts and paces that we get sucked into this one as being believable when the paces and distances become mythical.

Let’s keep going shall we? I mean it is just for fun.  That was the first set, now but another set of 20 reps at the same pace. And another after Bruce Denton says to do this one by yourself.  All tolled, he does 30 K, give or take rest breaks he does it in way less than 2 hours.

More Myth

Parker is careful to note that the young hero does not take water for the entire session.

Parker also notes that Cassidy has urine in his blood upon passing out.  A very believable fact that gives credence the heroic effort is plausible based on physiologic evidence of taxing the body.  Dehydration followed by overhydration?  Maybe some rhabdomyolysis (acute breakdown of the muscle caused by overexertion).

Add a little more to the myth, Cassidy does the session barefoot because he likes the feel beneath his feet. A little like Peter Snell I believe but clearly a precursor to Christopher McDougall’s philosophy in Born to Run.

What appeals to me?

I could never run 10K in 36 minutes.  I couldn’t even run 1 x 440 yards in 63 seconds maybe not even 73 seconds.  To do 20 of them and then another 20 and another is brilliant. Parker clearly must have based this chapter and workout on personal experience.  After all he was southeastern conference champion for 3 years in the mile.

When I did intervals for marathon training my pace was 3:30 for 800 meters (Yasso 800s). It worked and I PRed with a time of 3:29.38. That’s about 1:45 for once around or 105 seconds. So I look at milers with awe.  Their sheer speed impresses me.

After reading Once a Runner I was tempted to run the mile as an event. The training mileage is a lot like marathon training or so it seems in Parker-like fashion.  I was also inclined to read the sequel to this book Again to Carthage.  Thank God Quenton Cassidy grew up and trained for a marathon. I settled on the marathon but the mile is calling me.

Thanks for reading!

  1. After reading your post, I’m going to have to dust off my copy of Once A Runner again. I was a miler in high school (not a good one) and I STILL have that almost mystical feeling when I think about it. I don’t have the speed anymore, but there’s still a little voice way down inside me that whispers “you should try to train for a fast mile.” What makes me even consider that voice is the fact that my best time was 5:01. Yes, I got that close to breaking 5 without doing it. I don’t know if my often-injured (and nearly 45 year old) legs (or mind) could still handle all the speed training, but it’s fun to think about from time to time.

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