You could head to the track for some intervals Tuesday, and log a tempo run on Thursday. Or you could follow the lead of today's top runners and combine two traditional quality sessions into one killer workout. Britain's number one male marathon runner, Dan Robinson, is a 'combo convert' and holds mixed training partly responsible for his excellent 11th place at the World Championships in Osaka in August. "I've been mixing it up for the past six months or so and really feeling the benefits," he says. "If I do longer five- to eight-minute reps, I add some shorter hill sprints, or 30-second sprints just to break it up. I definitely look forward to sessions more now. Doing 10x1,000m straight can be quite hard, mentally."
Combination workouts are designed to build speed, endurance, and strength but they do more than improve your VO2 max and your lactate threshold. "The trick is maintaining good running action and form under the stress of increased fatigue," says George Gandy, director of athletics at Loughborough University. "So there is a conditioning aspect to it and a technical aspect to it. But it also creates those race-like conditions so you are better equipped to handle tempo changes. You don't get that from more singular forms of training."
Gandy warns those building fitness levels to approach combination work conservatively. "In my initial drills programme I build with foundation work as combo workouts can be very strenuous," he says. While you may not be vying for first place or need to respond to a breakaway attempt, mixing up pace and distance in the same workout teaches you to recover from a too-fast start, hold your speed when you're fatigued, and kick up your pace in the final 400m.
Perhaps best of all for the time-pressed runner, doubling up on workouts is a highly efficient and effective way to maintain or boost fitness levels. "For the runner trying to improve their fitness, the essence is that you are running fast - anything that gets the heart rate up around 80 per cent of maximum," says Brighton and Hove Athletics Club distance coach, Sam Lambourne. "The classic session is 8x200m and then a mile at the end - about three miles in total. That's a good once-a-week session. A classic club running session would be speedwork on a Tuesday and mile reps on a Thursday so it's a great time saver to combine the two."
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Combo: Speedwork + Sprints
Payoff: Overcome fatigue
Gandy has his Loughborough athletes complete 10 to 20 reps of 400m at 1500m pace followed by a short recovery and then 200m almost flat out. Scott Simmons, who coaches American marathon runner Fernando Cabada, has his athlete do as many as 25x400m at 10K-race pace with three or four of them run at an all-out pace in the second half of the workout. These "hammers," as he calls them, mimic the demands of a race because they cause lactic-acid buildup and muscle fatigue.
Your workout On a track, run 8-12x400m at 10K-race pace, with one lap recovery. For your first workout run the second to last 400m at top speed. Build up to three hammer intervals.