Combo Workouts


3 multi-zone efforts to get you race-ready

Most workouts focus on one training zone — endurance, stamina, speed or sprint. While these workouts make sense physiologically, many of the best coaches also incorporate “combo” workouts into their training. Combo workouts focus on more than one training zone and are often designed to mimic the demands you’ll face in a race. Here are three fun and proven combo workouts to add some spice to your training.


Courtesy of Eric Heins (via Ron Mann) from Northern Arizona University

After your warm-up, begin with 4 x 400m at slightly faster than 5K race pace. Instead of taking the traditional 200m jog, Heins’ runners start the next repeat in this workout every 2:30. For example, if they run the fast 400m in 1:10, then they rest for 1:20 and “go” when their watch hits 2:30. For most of us not as fast as Heins’ runners, starting every 3:00 or 4:00 would work best.

After the fourth 400m repeat, head off the track to the roads or trails and run 10 minutes at a steady state pace, typically about 80–90 percent effort, or between half marathon and marathon race pace. Then it’s back to the track (or grass field or marked trail) for another set of 4 x 400m. You repeat this sequence until you’ve accomplished this:

4 x 400m, starting every 2:30 to 4:00
10:00 steady state run
4 x 400m, starting every 2:30 to 4:00
10:00 steady state run
4 x 400m, starting every 2:30 to 4:00

This workout mimics the need to get out fast at the start of races as well as upping the intensity during the middle, more difficult stage. And of course, it’s always good to work on finishing fast.


Courtesy of Dr. Robert Chapman, founder of Team Indiana Elite

After your warm-up, begin with a 6-mile run at your 15K to half marathon race pace. Then jog for 2 to 3 minutes to a track or marked course and run 2K at your goal 5K pace. According to Coach Chapman, “When athletes can hit the goal time on the 2K portion, we feel confident that they have the aerobic fitness to race successfully. If not, then we extend the aerobic preparation phase a little longer.”

6-mile threshold run
Short jog
2K at goal 5K pace


Courtesy of Peter Rea, coach of ZAP Fitness

After your warm-up, run for 1500m or 1 mile at 10-12 seconds per mile slower than your current 5K fitness. According to Rea, “The goal here is to put ‘junk’ in the legs.”

Rest for 2 to 3 minutes, then run a progression run lasting 35 to 40 minutes. Start the progression run at 1:15 per mile slower than 5K pace, and progress the pace throughout the workout so that the last 5 to 8 minutes are at only 15-20 seconds per mile slower than 5K pace. Jog for 2 to 3 minutes, then run one or two 300m repeats very fast (mile race pace or faster), taking 2 to 3 minutes jog between repeats. Rea says, “The entire session combines speed-based endurance with anaerobic threshold stimulus and even some anaerobic ‘dessert’ with the fun final few repeats. This session is best executed two and a half to three weeks prior to an important 5K or 10K.”

1500m fast
35- to 40-minute progression run
1-2 x 300m very fast


I love single-zone workouts. I feel they help the athlete target that particular training zone, resulting in optimal improvement. But racing isn’t single-zone. As a result, it’s important that you include some combo workouts in your training plan. I’ve listed three workouts from three coaches I admire, but there are infinite possibilities. Get creative. Think about what you need to improve on in your racing. Design workouts to address these needs. Take ownership of your progress and use combo workouts like those described here to toe the line with the training experiences to help you achieve your best performance.

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Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

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