Are you bored with your usual workouts? Tepid on tempo? Irritated about intervals? Morbid over mileage? Well, that’s too bad because you need all of those things to achieve your running goals! That said, there is nothing wrong with mixing things up once in a while. After all, you don’t have meat and potatoes every night for dinner.
One possibly new workout combination you could try is combining tempo runs with short, fast hills. An older school of thought believed that tempos should always be run at even pace, to make sure you stay just below the anaerobic threshold. More recent investigations have shown that there are benefits to running at, above, and below your threshold.
One way to spike your effort during a tempo is to throw in a series of short, fast hills. The anaerobic uphill sprints recruit fast-twitch muscle fibres that your body doesn’t usually access during distance runs. When you switch back to tempo pace, those activated muscle fibres are kept on to do the aerobic job, making your work more efficient.
Of course, it won’t feel like it right away: it will feel like crap! But if you do this workout with some regularity, you can add some “aerobically-trained” fast-twitch muscle fibres to your recruitment pool.
How you do this workout depends on the terrain you have available. We have a 2.5 km road loop with a steep hill at the 1,500m mark. The runners will do 1,500m at tempo pace (no faster than half-marathon pace), then, when they get to the hill, 4×10 seconds all-out up, and jog down. After the fourth sprint, they continue on the loop back at tempo for 2.5 km, then they repeat it. For some, 5 km, plus two sets of hills is enough, but others do another loop to get to 7 km of tempo and three sets of hills. We have an alternate course where we can do half and 1,500m tempos between the hills.
I like his workout as it is both mentally challenging (to ramp back to threshold after the hills) and has a useful physiological result (fast twitch fibre recruitment).