WRC Speed Development – 20/08/2020 – Emil Zatopek: 400/200

18 August 2020 - By Scott Darney

“An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.”

Emil Zaoptek was born in Czechoslovakia in 1922, he only started running at 16 when, working in a shoe factory the boss randomly picked 4 boys to run in a race.  At first he insisted that he was too weak so the boss ordered him to undergo a physical where the doctor passed him fit and so he had to run.  “When I got started, I felt I wanted to win. But I only came in second.”  The 2nd place was out of 100 runners and so he decided to join the local athletics club where he developed his own training programme, modelled on the great Paavo Nurmi and within four years he had broken the Czechoslovakian national records for the 2000m, 3000m and 5000m.

In his first Olympics, London 1948, he took home the Gold in the 10000m and a Silver in the 5000m behind Gaston Reiff of Belgium.  He achieved his first 5000m/10000m double in the European Championships in Brussells in 1950.

Emil Zatopek then created history in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics when he acheived the greatest running treble and one which will surely never be matched – Gold in the 5000m, 10000m and the Marathon (and setting a new Olympic record in each event). Even more remarkable was that this was Zatopek’s debut in the marathon.  An hour into the Marathon Zatopek who had introduced himself to the English marathoner Jim Peters before the race started found himself on his shoulder and shouted to him: “Jim, is this pace too fast?” “No,” Peters replied. “It isn’t fast enough.” so with that Zatopek increased his speed, took the lead and won by over 2 & 1/2 minutes.  Peters was toying with Zatopek, the pace was perfectly fine.

He was famous for his extremely high mileage and was partly responsible for revival of interval style training after a brief lull during WW2.  Many rivals tried and failed to match his work rate and volume.  He would often run as much as 145 miles a week and the typical Zatopek interval sessions were 200m and 400m repeats with 200m recovery.

The difference between Zatopeks 400s and the 400s you and I would run today is that he would run up to 90 reps in a day at his peak – 50 in the morning, 40 in the afternoon. Most of the sessions he ran in the woods too, where it could be cold and snowing and on occaision he would wear his army boots just to make the session harder!

Zatopek would try and run his efforts on feel. He would start slightly slower than his fastest pace and make his middle efforts the hardest before easing off towards the end. In a typical set of 40 x 400m he would run the middle 20 hard, and slightly easier in the 10 before and after.

The beauty of a simple 400m rep session is that there are so many ways you can run the work out and you will be pleased to hear that we will not be copying Zatopek entirely in our session, we will just honour him with the 400 / 200 format!

So onto the session, in summary it is:

  • 400m hard effort
  • 200m jogging or walking recovery

The hard effort should be a pace that you feel you can maintain throughout the session.  As a guide this might be somewhere between 5k and 10k.

The preferred recovery is a jogging recovery but you can walk –  however, note that this may extend the session past the usual 30 minutes

You have various options on how to perform this session:

Option 1

  • 2 sets of 4-5 x 400/200 with an additional 2 minute rest in between.

Option 2

  • 8-12 x 400/200

Option 3

  • 12-16 x 400/200

Note that there are ways you can adapt the longer session by doing 3 sets of 5 x 400/200 or 2 sets of 8 x 400/200 if you want to do more reps but need to give yourself some additional rest.

Accompanying this workout is another tip from Zatopek about the importance of staying relaxed during running:

“Always be relaxed and to help ensure that while running, gently touch the tip of your thumb with the tip of your index or middle finger. Just making that slight contact would ensure that arms and shoulders remained relaxed.”

As usual please can all members ensure that they:

  • Perform the workout in groups of no more than 6 and adhere to current Covid guidelines by staying 1-2 metres apart,
  • Pick a session that is suited to your current fitness.
  • Perform a suitable 1-2 mile easy jog warm up and cool down and appropriate dynamic warm up and post session stretching as required.

We hope you enjoy the session and think of Zatopek whilst you are doing them!

If  you want to learn more about Zatopek, I would strongly advise that you read his biography : Today We Die a Little: The Rise and Fall of Emil Zátopek, Olympic Legend

Good luck!



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