A Better Yasso 800 Workout
The Yasso 800 workout has long been one of the most popular marathon training workouts. The allure of being able to predict your marathon time through an almost “magical” mathematic trick has led everyone from first-timers to Boston Qualifiers to tackle the iconic 10x 800 workout.
But, despite its popularity, I’ve always had some problems with the Yasso 800 workout.
The first problem is that the Yasso 800 workout focuses on having you run near your VO2 max pace (≈5k pace) for a large volume of repeats. While a good VO2 max is certainly helpful for marathoning, it is not as important as something like lactate threshold.
I would like a cornerstone workout like Yasso 800’s to include more work for the energy systems you will primarily rely on during the marathon.
A cornerstone workout should be highly specific to the distance you're training for
The second problem is that the Yasso 800 workout often overestimates your marathon fitness.
This is especially common for relatively new marathoners or runners who started running later in life. They lack the endurance necessary to make Yasso 800’s an accurate predictor, which sets them up to go out too fast on marathon day.
Still, I’ve always felt there were positives to the Yasso 800 workout, as well.
The number one positive is that the Yasso 800 workout is a long, challenging workout — both mentally and physically. Being able to continue to push hard for a long period of time is definitely a valuable skill to practice during marathon training.
Challenging mental and physical workout
The second positive is that a lot of people have run the Yasso 800 workout. So even if it isn’t as accurate as we would like as a predictor workout, you can easily compare your efforts with others or your previous efforts.
BUILDING A BETTER YASSO 800 WORKOUT:
With these problems and positives in mind, I’ve worked to put together a better, more effective version of the Yasso 800 workout.
My goal was to take the positives, emphasize them, and tweak the workout in a way that minimizes the negatives. The end result is something that I hope is more appropriate and specific to marathon training while still retaining the spirit of the original workout.
Emphasize the positives, minimize the negatives
So to recap, here are the problems and the positives as I started working on this:
Yasso 800’s only includes running at VO2 max pace
Add in lactate threshold work (cruise repeats) and goal marathon pace work
Most runners lack the endurance needed to make the Yasso workout accurate as a predictor workout
Structure the lactate threshold and goal pace work to challenge endurance in a way that the original workout does not
THINGS TO RETAIN / EMPHASIZE:
• Keep the workout long and challenging (let’s make it longer and harder!)
• Keep the 800 repeats so that we can continue to use them as a marker to compare to other runners / previous training cycles
THE NEW WORKOUT PROGRESSION:
With all that in mind, I’ve outlined the progression of a new, hopefully improved, version of the Yasso 800 workout.
You do each workout about 3-4 weeks apart, culminating in the final workout 3-4 weeks out from your goal marathon.
The final workout puts you into a fatigued state with the 800’s and then asks you to hold marathon pace for several consecutive miles — a good mental and physical test for race day.
Holding marathon pace while fatigued for race-specific training
I’ve used this progression (and variations on it) with several marathoners over the fall and winter with good success — though I recognize it’s still a work in progress.
The exact progression will continue to evolve, but I think it’s important to think about how the training that you’re doing fits in with what you’ll ask your body to do on race day.
Hopefully these workouts will help you be even more prepared for your next marathon, or at least get you thinking about how you can change your own training to be more race-specific.
Remember there is nothing magical about any one workout — it’s about making sure that the training that you’re doing is appropriate for the distance you’re training for. If it’s not, there’s nothing holding you back from changing things up!
About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and Competitor. For information on his coaching services, click here.