Tempo workouts, speedwork, long runs, not to mention work, family, and life in general—how can a runner fit it all in? One time-efficient solution: Combo workouts. These sessions blend elements of quality runs to make the most of every minute you have.
"Doubling up is great for targeting different systems in one workout—speed, strength, mental toughness, and more—which makes you fitter and better prepared for race day," says Susan Paul, program director for Track Shack's Fitness Club in Orlando (trackshack.com). While these multitasking workouts deliver bonus rewards, they also stress your body, so follow up with a day of easy running, cross-training, or a rest day. Here's how—and why—to get it together. (Related: Give your workout a facelift: A fresh approach to running that boosts fitness and speed)
LONG RUN+GOAL PACE
TO LEARN PROPER PACING
"This run allows you to practice race pace without risking injury because the fast portion is short," says Mike Norman, co-owner and coach of Chicago Endurance Sports (chicagoendurancesports.com). It also gets you mentally and physically accustomed to running hard on fatigued legs, a necessary skill for race day. Begin your long run at a pace about a minute slower than goal pace. Two-thirds through the run, speed up to goal pace or slightly faster and maintain it until you've completed your mileage. If you're running more than 16 miles, use the same formula, but only run the last three to four miles at marathon goal pace.
TO SHARPEN SPEED
This taxing duo trains your body to resume your goal pace after a short, fast spurt—say, if you were passing someone in a race. "When you throw in a faster-paced segment to raise the bar on your aerobic threshold, it ultimately makes goal pace seem that much easier," says Paul. After warming up, run one mile at or up to 30 seconds faster than your marathon, half-marathon, or 10-K pace. Then run 400 meters at 5-K pace or slightly faster. Repeat the sequence two to five times. Do this workout on a measured stretch of road, on a track (or a combination of road and track), or on a treadmill.
TO PUSH THROUGH FATIGUE
"Sandwiching a lower-body strength workout between two easy runs creates that heavy leg feeling," says Paul. "You're simulating race-day muscle fatigue—caused by the buildup of waste products and the draining of carbohydrate reserves—without actually logging long or hard mileage." Run two to three miles easy on a treadmill or outdoors. Follow that with six to eight reps of squats, lunges, and calf raises (in the gym add leg extensions and leg curls). Do two or three sets. Hop back on the treadmill or head out for another two to six easy miles.
SEARCH: Best workouts for runners
TO IMPROVE FORM AND FITNESS
Combining a hilly route with half-mile repeats elevates your heart rate, which can improve your aerobic capacity. Plus, "on long, slow runs we can get sloppy with our form; short, fast ones 'clean up' our form by teaching our bodies to find the most efficient way to run," says Paul. On a measured route with rolling hills (or on a rolling loop that ends near a track), run easy for one mile, then do 800 meters at 10-K pace (newbies run 30 to 60 seconds per mile faster than easy pace). Repeat the sequence two to four times.
TO LEARN CONSISTENT EFFORT
The key to a successful race is to keep your effort constant despite fluctuations in pace as you navigate varying terrain.
"Running hills followed by flats helps you find that even effort and become accustomed to it," says Norman. For this combo, a treadmill provides the most control. Warm up, then set the incline at two to five percent and run at a pace that allows you to complete a two-minute interval. Reduce the incline to zero and continue at the same effort for two minutes by picking up your pace. Your breathing rate should stay the same. Walk or jog at zero-percent incline for two minutes. Repeat the sequence three to six times.
Training Tip RUN BETTER
Combo sessions are efficient but can be tiring. Beginners should run one every two to three weeks; seasoned runners can perform one per week.