Designing a training plan can feel like ticking off a checklist.
- Short intervals to boost speed? Check
- Tempo runs to raise lactate threshold? Check
- Hill repeats to build power? Check
In a race, of course, you must roll all these components into a single performance. So it's wise to also include combination workouts to practice changing gears physiologically and mentally. Combo runs blend familiar ingredients to create an unfamiliar situation that yields a bigger payoff. (If you're just now ramping up your training, follow these Tips to Get Your Training Back on Track
For instance, doing a tempo run immediately after performing 300-meter intervals ramps up the aerobic challenge. Do intervals after hills, and you're learning to maintain pace while fighting through muscle fatigue.
More: 4 Tempo Workouts to Tune Up Your Training
Whatever combination you choose offers a unique stimulus that forces your body to adapt in a slightly different way. Mix short and long intervals on the track with tempo sections on roads or trails and hill repeats. Make use of whatever landscape features you have available, incorporate different paces, and keep the total distance covered consistent with your usual workouts (e.g., if you typically do 6 x 800 meters, your combo should add up to about three miles).
Combo sessions require that you stay alert in order to adjust to the changing terrain, pace, and effort level. Keeping the rests between sections short—no more than a minute—forces you to make these adjustments quickly and practice the focus you need to race well. (See what it takes to ace your next race—learn the 10 Golden Rules of Race Success.)
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Do one of the following combos every two weeks
Former University of Michigan coach Ron Warhurst is famous for his milers, all of whom ran variations of this workout. Run the intervals on a track and the tempos on the road or a trail, with no more than a minute of rest between each.
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- 1 to 1.5 miles at tempo pace
1200 meters hard
1 to 1.5 miles tempo
800 meters hard
1 to 1.5 miles tempo
400 meters all out
Centro's XC Simulator
Cross-country races start fast and finish fast, and require plenty of strength in the middle. American University coach Matt Centrowitz replicates that effort with this workout.
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1200 meters (first lap at mile pace, next two 10 seconds slower); 1:00 rest
5 x 60-second hill repeats; jog down
1-mile tempo; 1:00 rest
1200 meters (first two laps 10 to 15 seconds slower than mile pace, last lap at mile pace)
Workouts that mix track and road and gradually accelerate within each section were staples of the fabled Oregon program in the 1970s. This session is adapted from one Steve Prefontaine did in May 1975.
More: 16 Tips for Building Speed on the Track
2 x 1200 meters (start at 10-K pace, two seconds faster each lap); 1:00 rest
3- to 5-mile progression run (start easy, gradually accelerate so final mile is at half-marathon pace); 1:00 rest
5 x 300 meters (jog 100 meters between each one; start at 10-K pace and get faster)
- Follow repeats with road tempos for an aerobic challenge.
Tough workouts can leave your body vulnerable to damage. Remember to follow the 10 Laws of Injury Prevention and avoid any bumps in your training.
More: 3 Workouts to Increase VO2 Max
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