Train smarter and Run Faster with this Tempo and Interval Combo Workout

Tempo and Interval Combo Workout

Two hard workouts per week plus a long run is the standard formula for a training plan. But just because training books written decades ago follow this formula doesn’t mean you have to follow it in each and every week. 

In both coaching other runners and self-coaching, I assess how many hard workouts per week based on a wide number of factors: age, gender, work schedule, goals, and so on. A standard formula is not a one-size fits all, and individual runners respond differently to different training loads.

In my last focused half marathon training cycle (spring 2016), I completed two hard workouts per week plus a long run. Sometimes my long runs were hard, other times they were done at an easy pace. I was aiming for a huge PR – and I did PR by almost 5 minutes – and had spent the past couple months base building with mostly easily runs.

For this half marathon, I’m favoring one hard workout per week plus a long run for half marathon training. Since I’ve done a few half marathons now and am chasing a PR, my long runs aren’t long slow distance runs – a majority of them are hard long runs. That combined all of the winter cross-training activities we do and a desire for a less intense training cycle made one hard workout per week outside of the long run the logical choice for this training cycle.  

After all, you can only push so hard in training. Even when you’re training to PR, those hard and fast run should only be a fraction of your weekly mileage. 

Combo Running Workout

But I want to get faster in the half marathon – as I’m sure many of you do, and you’re probably wondering how you can do so with just one hard workout and one long run per week.

So how do you then train optimally for a goal race with just one hard workout plus one long run per week? One answer is a combo workout.

As the name implies, a combo workout combines various types of workouts into one. It could be a long run with tempo miles, or it could be a tempo run with intervals at the end – such as the tempo and interval combo workout I’m sharing with you today. 

I have added combo workouts to my training recently and enjoy them for the challenge, economy of time, and variety. If you read my training logs or follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed the addition of intervals at the end of my recent tempo runs. These aren’t an easy workout by any means, but these workouts certainly make the most of your hard workout.

In this tempo and intervals combo workout, you run at both your tempo pace (anaerobic/lactate threshold) and your interval pace. This will teach you to run faster, especially when your legs are tired at the end of a race.

A few quick notes:

  • If you are a beginner runner or recovering from an injury, skip this workout as it is more advanced. The risk of injury outweighs any benefits of combining tempo and interval training.
  • Be sure to properly warm up for this type of workout. This includes dynamic stretches, easy running, and drills.
  • Take the appropriate measures for recovery after this run: eat a combination of carbs and protein within 60 minutes, stretch and foam roll, and run easy for the following 2-3 days.

Train smarter and Run Faster with this Tempo and Interval Combo Workout

The Workout:

Warm up with 10-20 minutes of easy running, with 3-5 x 20-30 second accelerations, to wake up your body for faster running.
Pause and perform dynamic stretches and/or drills.
25 minute tempo run (for most runners, this will be approximately 3 miles. By focusing on time instead of distance, you are less likely to race the workout. Running at the appropriate effort and pace is important!)
5 minute easy running  (take it really easy!)
4-5 x 60 seconds hard, 60-90 seconds easy
Cool down with 5-10 minutes of easy running

Pace & Effort:

  • Easy means truly easy – you should feel as if you are holding back during the warm up. The purpose of the warm up is not to run fast or even moderate. You want to ease your body into running for a better workout and lower risk of injury. On the recovery intervals, slow down even more to be able to run fast again.
  • Tempo pace is approximately between your 10K and half marathon pace. The effort should feel comfortably hard and sustainable for the duration.
  • Hard indicates an labored effort, not a particular pace – especially since your legs are tired from the tempo run. Aim for what feels like 2 mile to 5K race effort. Your breathing should be notably labored during the hard intervals.  

There are multiple variations to this run – longer tempo segment, more intervals, shorter intervals, and so on. Have fun with this workout and train hard in it!

Try one of my workouts? Let me know what you think! Share your workout and tag @thisrunnersrecipes on Instagram or Facebook. 

Linking up with Wild Workout Wednesday

What’s your current favorite workout?
How many times per week do you do a hard running workout?
Do you do combo or multi-pace workouts in your training?

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20 Responses

  1. This is great! I have actually done a similar workout during a long run when I wasn’t training for anything. But the intervals at the end were a little longer but less intense. Running at different efforts throughout a run is such a good way to keep things interesting!

  2. I haven’t really done any combo workouts like this because I’m still on the train of “2 workouts, 1 long run” every week… so one workout is usually a track workout and the other a tempo. I will only do one this week because I ran the half on Saturday so I just need a down week (will still run the miles just easy day that day instead of a workout).

    I like the idea of this one because you are doing the fast minutes on tired legs and you get the stimulus of two different paces during the run.

  3. You’re right–when I’m training hard for a specific race I will do 3 hard workouts per week but that is NOT sustainable long-term. Not for me, anyway. I’m not training for anything at all right now but I like to keep a baseline fitness level with one hard(ish) workout and a long run per week (anything 10 miles or more). My hard workout lately is a 7-10 miler with the last 2 or 3 at 6:40 min/mile pace (that would be near my half marathon race pace).

  4. I love this workout Laura. While I always do two hard workouts and a long run myself, I find that most of my coaching clients can only handle one hard workout + long run (sometimes with pacing included) or doing all three within a 10-day period vs 7. I see a lot of aches and pains pop up for people, especially runners who are still building their mileage and experience with two workouts. This is a really nice option. xo

    1. I agree – not everyone can handle two hard plus a long! Even coming off of CIM, I kept it easy with workouts like this instead of two until I could sense if I was ready to push a bit more again. I hope you and baby Bella are doing well!

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