Most runners are familiar with tempo runs. And hill workouts, too.
But have you considered combining them into a powerful workout that will build your endurance and strength?
Successfully completing this combination workout will leave you feeling confident and ready to run fast! But before we get in into the workout specifics, let’s talk a bit about each of the components that make up this workout:
“Tempo” is a word that gets used a lot in training plans, but many runners are not exactly how to run this type of workout. They’re usually defined in three ways:
- A “comfortably hard” pace that’s challenging but you could maintain it for about an hour if in good shape. For most runners, this is about 10—
- An effort of 85-90 percent of your maximum heart rate.
- Finally (and most precisely), a tempo run is run at or near your lactate threshold.
Lactate threshold is when you’re straddling the line between aerobic (“with oxygen”) and anaerobic (“without oxygen) running.
When you’re running at an easy pace, you’re not producing that much lactate (a byproduct of exercise)—and it’s cleared quickly from your muscles. But at tempo (lactate threshold) pace, you can just barely clear all the lactate your muscles are making because you’re running so fast and working so hard.
Raising this threshold means you are more efficient at recycling that byproduct into fuel. For runners, the most important outcome of this is the ability to run faster, longer, and with less fatigue. As you train that way, it will benefit you in races when fatigue sets in. And who doesn’t want that?!
Tempo runs have a significant impact on your physical performance, but they also benefit you mentally. They teach you to run fast when fatigued and improve mental toughness.
Tempo runs can be done both continuously or as longer intervals, which are especially beneficial for new runners or those getting back into faster running. They should be performed on a relatively flat surface such as a road, track or packed gravel trail, and a continuous 15- to 30-minute effort will provide maximum benefit.
Hills & More Hills!
Hills may be a less complicated concept than a tempo run, but that doesn’t make them any less challenging! Hills are beneficial for a number of reasons, including:
- – building running-specific leg strength;
- – reinforcing proper running form;
- – producing less impact forces, making them ideal for injury-prone runners;
- – building skill and power, especially in newer runners;
- – preparing you for hilly races.
Hill workouts can vary greatly. They can involve short, intense repetitions, such as 60- to 90-second efforts at 5K race pace. Or they may include longer repetitions of 2- to 5-minute intervals at a sustained, tempo-like effort, which are less intense but more mentally challenging.
Hill repeats have been described as “speed work in disguise,” and with good reason! Short, intense repetitions mimic a very hard V02 workout on the track, but with the added benefit of reduced injury risk. Shorter hill workouts are probably better suited to the combination workout described here, since you will complete a tempo effort prior to these repetitions.
Putting it All Together
Time to combine these two powerhouse workouts! But first, make sure you are physically prepared to handle the intensity. Prior to the combination workout, you should be able to hold a sustained tempo for 20-30 minutes continuously. You should also be able to complete 4-8 hill repetitions, though the exact duration and grade of hill will vary with your fitness and what’s available to you.
The exact type and length of race you are training for will affect where this workout fits best in your training plan. For most runners, it will work well late in late base-training. This will give you time to build your mileage and gain fitness, but will come in the weeks prior to more race-specific workouts.
When planning the tempo and hill combination workout, you’ll need to make a few adjustments:
- Cut your typical tempo time in half. If you usually run for 30 minutes, you’ll run for 15 before heading into the second half of the workout. This allows you to have enough left in the tank to finish strong.
- Shorten the duration of your hill repeats. If you usually run 90 second repeats, shorten them to 60 seconds. If they are usually a minute, try shortening them to 30-45 seconds.
Finally (drumroll please!), the complete structure of this workout from start to finish should look like this:
- Start with an easy 15- to 25-minute warm-up.
- Do some dynamic workout drills and then run 4-8 strides to help prepare your body for the workout ahead.
- Run at your tempo pace for 10-20 minutes.
- Run easy for 2-4 minutes.
- Run 3-8 hill repetitions. These should be run at 5K-10K effort. It’s ok if the actual pace is slower–it probably will be! Just run this by feel.
- After each rep, jog back down very slowly to the beginning of the hill, turn around, and up you go!
Runners aiming for a 5K to half marathon race are best served by this type of workout. The major focus is building the aerobic engine with a healthy dose of intensity to cap off the run. Just like a 5K, 10K, or half marathon!