Workout of the Week: The In-n-Out Tempo Run


Let’s face it: Training for a marathon or half-marathon can get monotonous. Both programs involve lots of sustained running at or around goal race pace. This is part of the deal, of course, and an important component for developing fitness, dialing in pacing, practicing fueling, and more. That said, it gets repetitive, if not boring, and a lot of people tend to lock in to a set pace and then zone out until it’s time to stop. Racing, however, requires you to pay attention, listen to your body, and make adjustments on the fly, which is why I love to assign the In-n-Out Tempo Run from time to time. Not to mention, it’s much more interesting than its classically constructed cousin! Here are the details:

What: A continuous 4-12 mile tempo run alternating 2-3 miles at your marathon pace with one mile at your half marathon pace (~roughly 15-20 sec/mi faster than your marathon pace). E.g., a 3-hour marathoner would alternate 2-3 miles @ 6:50/mi pace with 1 mile @ 6:30 for up to 12 total miles. You can also do this by time, e.g. alternate 10-15 minutes @ marathon pace with 5′ @ half-marathon pace for up to 90 total minutes. Note: Adjust the paces and length of the tempo run to match your fitness and experience level.

Warmup/Cooldown: Warm up before the workout with 15-20 minutes of easy running followed by a set of drills and 4-6 x 20-second strides (i.e., accelerate for 5 seconds, spend the next 10 seconds at near-top speed, and then gradually decelerate to a jog over the final 5 seconds. Catch your breath for 40-60 seconds and then repeat 3-5 more times). Cool down after the workout with 5-15 minutes of easy running.

Why: There are three reasons I like to use this workout: 1. It’s more interesting—and effective, I’d argue—than doing tempo runs at half-marathon or marathon race pace all the way through. 2. It helps simulate some of the pace changes that are likely to occur in a race situation. 3. It’s a good lactate clearance session, i.e., the faster miles flood your muscles with lactate and the slower miles teach your body how to reconvert that lactate into usable energy.

Where: It’s best to do this one on the roads or runnable trails but a treadmill works too. Avoid the track if possible: too many turns, especially when you get up there in distance.

When: You can do this workout 3-4 times over the course of a 12-week training cycle and manipulate the number of miles and/or paces as your fitness improves.

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