Mixed Stimulus Workouts

By Ryan Warrenburg, ZAP Fitness

One of the most common mistakes we make as distance runners is doing the same thing every single day. It’s easy to get in the habit of doing the same route at the same pace every day, but it’s also one of the principal causes of performance stagnation. Varying the duration, frequency, terrain, and intensity of runs are the building blocks of long-term improvement. Incorporating workouts such as tempo runs, fartlek, or interval work on a regular basis is a great way to make improvements through varied intensity. We tend to place those workouts into specific categories – tempo pace, marathon pace, interval pace, hill repeats etc. But who’s to say you can’t do tempo pace and interval pace in the same workout? Or include hill repeats in the middle of a tempo run? Utilizing mixed stimulus workouts can give you a unique challenge and allow for more recovery days between hard workouts than if you were running 2 separate workouts during the week. Here are four mixed stimulus workouts that will make you rethink your Tuesday tempo or Thursday interval days:

Tempo with Hills

This is a combination workout that is well suited for the early stages of a training plan when you’re beginning to incorporate harder workouts into your routine. Hill repetitions are an excellent way to introduce quicker running while you are in the building stages of training because the impact stress is minimal and they do wonders for improving running economy. In addition to getting the benefits of both tempo and hill work this workout improves your ability to recover at a steady pace, perfect for recovering on the fly from that mid-race hill. You’ll want to find a relatively flat stretch of road or trail with close proximity to a hill for this workout. For the workout itself, run 10 minutes at tempo pace, roughly the pace you could hold for a 60-minute race, then take 60-90 seconds recovery before going right into a 3-4 hill repetitions of 30-45 seconds. After each hill your recovery is an easy jog to the bottom. After the final hill take 4 minutes and then repeat the process 1-2 more times.

The Michigan

This workout was made famous by former University of Michigan coach, the legendary Ron Warhurst. This workout is a combination of tempo and interval running, and is a workout you should only attempt in the final 3-8 weeks before a key race. The Michigan is designed to improve your ability to buffer lactic acid, an important component for fast 5k and 10k racing. The specifics of the workout can vary depending on your level of training, but general structure is to alternate back and forth between interval and tempo. A common version of the workout looks like this: 1 mile run at 5-8 seconds slower than 5k pace, 2-3 minutes easy jog, 1 mile tempo, 2-3 minute easy jog, 3/4 mile at or slightly faster than 5k pace, 2-3 minutes easy jog, 1 mile tempo, 2-3 minutes easy jog, 1/2 mile slightly faster than the 3/4 mile interval, 2-3 minutes easy jog, 1 mile tempo, 1/4 mile slightly faster than the 1/2 mile interval. It is an intimidating workout, but that’s why it’s the only workout on this list with an official name. I would recommend eliminating the last 1 mile tempo and 1/4 mile repeat for first timers. And due to the intensity this workout should be treated like a race as it relates to recovery afterward.

Long Run with Tempo

The “fast finish” long run is a popular component to many marathon training plans, but it is wonderful strength building workout for any distance runner. It combines the aerobic and muscular strength benefits of the long run with the higher intensity benefits of a tempo run. In preparation for a marathon this is a run you would incorporate in your specific phase of training, the final 2-8 weeks preceding your marathon. In preparation for shorter distances like the 5k or 10k this type of long run should be done earlier in a training program before you start your primary racing schedule. There are two ways to execute this run. The first is to progress evenly over the second half of your run, working from long run pace down to or a touch quicker than tempo pace. The second is to run steadily at tempo pace for 2-6 miles within the long run. I tend to prefer the former to the latter because it allows you to listen to your body as you work through the run without overreaching and getting into trouble in the midst of a longer run.

Tempo with Speed at End

This is a workout we frequently use with our ZAP-Reebok pro athletes. The tempo work can vary, from a long uphill climb to a standard tempo run or tempo based intervals, but regardless, we often finish this type of work with something fast at the end. Finishing a tempo workout with 4-10 fast 30 second to 1-minute pieces teaches the body to be efficient and run fast when it’s tired. This is a good way to practice finishing fast in a race without the physical breakdown that occurs at race intensity. After the tempo effort take 4-5 minutes rest before the faster pieces. Take plenty of rest between the fast pieces as well, up to 2 minutes, because these are for improving running efficiency not pushing yourself to the limit.

Many runners we see at our Adult Running Vacations during the summer struggle balancing working hard with recovery, often incorporating two or three hard workouts in one week and not recovering properly from any of them. For those worried about checking all the boxes every week these mixed stimulus workouts allow you to do so in one training session and leave more room in your week to recover properly.

*This Article Originally Appeared in the May 2018 Issue of Running Journal