Michael Wardian likes to race. A lot.

So what does someone who competes over 50 times a year at a variety of distances and disciplines do when he’s not racing and wants to work on his speed?

He pushes himself with a simple, yet challenging progression run he likes to call “Out and Back…Faster!” This session can be done virtually anywhere—Wardian prefers a traffic-free bike path or dirt trail—and the exact distance and effort are easily adjustable depending on your experience level and where you are in your training program.

photo: courtesy Michael Wardian

“It’s pretty straightforward,” explains Wardian. “You run out 30 minutes and try to come back along the same course in 28 minutes—or if you are really smoking, 25 minutes. The trick is—and how it becomes a nice workout—is to run a solid effort for the first 30 minutes. If you jog on the way out, it will be tough but not a great workout.”

Wardian suggests running your first 30 minutes at an effort that falls between your half-marathon and marathon pace, then trying to make the return trip between 5 and 15 seconds per mile faster than you went out. He loves this workout because it’s more challenging than it looks on paper and helps you practice finishing hard at the end of a race. For marathoners, it’s a great workout for simulating how you’ll feel in the the last hour of your event.

“It messes with your head in that you know what the finish line looks like and when you are suffering on the return, you know exactly how far you still have to go to be done,” he says. “And when you are not there yet, you have to dig—and I think that helps in races.”

Despite his heavy racing load and hectic travel schedule, Wardian likes to do this workout at least once a month in addition to other types of speed sessions. The effort-based nature of this progression run workout lets it be as hard or as easy as you need it to be. You can also change the time variable to alter the workout—go out for a solid 20 minutes and haul on the way back to make it a shorter, faster effort, or out for 40–60 minutes with a faster “cruise” on the way home for more of an endurance challenge.

“The workout is super simple but gets me fired up and tests me every time,” Wardian says.

Updated from article originally published September 2015.