Coach Jeff

Written by Coach Jeff


Tempo and Interval Combo Workouts

The main purpose for many of the workouts on your training schedule are to simulate the specific demands of your race in as many ways as possible.

This can include the mental demands, training specific energy systems, simulating racing tactics, or practice running under certain conditions.

We use tempo and interval combo workouts to simulate running fast on tired legs, which is a skill you need to develop in order to finish strong and to be able to kick hard the last half mile of a race.

Examples of how tempo/interval combo workouts might be written on your training schedule include:

2 mile w/u, 2 miles @ threshold pace, 2 min rest, 12 x 400 meters at 5k pace, 2 min rest, 2 miles @ threshold pace, 2 mile c/d

2 mile w/u, 3-5 miles at threshold pace, 3-5 min rest, 1-2 minutes at 5k pace w/1-2 minutes rest, 2 mile c/d

The exact number of intervals, the rest period, and distances will change throughout your training plan as you get fitter.


The purpose of tempo/interval combo workouts are to train your legs, body, and mind to be able to run fast when tired.

The main determinant of how fast you can finish is a direct result of your ability to not just run fast, but to run fast when tired.

If you were to head to the track right now and run 400 meters as fast as you can, you would be surprised at how fast you could finish. Now, if you were to try and replicate this time at the end of a 5k, 10k or half marathon, you would quickly find it impossible.

Therefore, we can easily see that your absolute speed is not what is holding you back from finishing fast at the end a race.

Tempo/interval combos work by first getting your legs tired, usually through a series of tempo runs or interval workouts, and then ask you to run the last 1/3rd of the workout fast or at goal race pace. By first getting your legs tired or producing lactate, you can better simulate the experience at the end of a race and train your body to push through that moment and finish fast.


Performing tempo/interval combo workouts is pretty straight forward. Your training schedule will assign you a specific pace to target for the entire workout and your main goal should be to be within that target pace range as best you can, especially for the last part of the workout. For example, you may have a workout that looks like this (your paces will be unique to you):

2 mile w/u, 2 miles @ 7:15 – 7:20 pace, 2 min rest, 12 x 400 @ 1:34 – 1:37 w/90 sec rest, 3min rest, 2 miles @ 7:10, 1 mile c/d

  1. To perform this workout, you would run an easy 2 mile warm-up, which includes light stretching and a few strides to loosen up, to begin.
  2. You will then begin you first 2 mile segment with a target goal of 7:20 for the first mile. If you hit 7:20 and feel comfortable, you can speed up to 7:15. If 7:20 felt difficult, remain at 7:20 pace. Always start your workouts on the slower end of the suggested pace range and only increase the pace to the faster end of the range if you feel good.
  3. After you have finished running the first 2 mile segment you will rest for 2 minutes, which can be either walking or slow jogging, before beginning the last speed portion of the workout.
  4. Run the 400’s at the pace assigned with 90 seconds rest between each interval. Be careful not to go too fast during this portion. The hard part of the workout is next.
  5. After your last 400 repeat, take a 3 minute rest. Then, start out on the final 2 mile segment. Concentrate on hitting your paces even though your legs will be tired from the 400’s.

Coach’s Notes

  • The final 1/3rd of this workout is the most important piece. You diminish the benefits of the entire workout if you’re only able to complete half the workout, whether this is due to time constraints or by running the 400’s too fast to have energy for the final segment. Do your best to complete the entire workout.
  • I said this earlier, bit always start your workouts on the slower end of the suggested pace range and only increase the pace to the faster end of the range if you feel good.
  • If you’re struggling during the workout, don’t be afraid to slow the target pace down to something you can handle. We all have our off days, whether it be from outside stressors or just a bad running day. Don’t beat yourself up and simply focus on getting through the entire workout to the best of your ability on the day.

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One Response on “Tempo and Interval Combo Workouts

  1. Pingback: Muscle Cramps While Running: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

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