Friday Workout: The Hill-Tempo Sandwich

This workout mixes two training elements into the same workout—giving you more bang for your buck!

More often than not, most of the challenging workouts runners do on a regular basis tend to emphasize one of four things: power, speed, stamina or specificity. For example, you might do some short hill sprints to develop lower leg strength, power and explosiveness, an interval session to improve your 5K race pace or a 30-minute tempo run to work on your endurance and/or dial in your race pace for an upcoming half marathon or marathon.

And while there’s nothing wrong with this individualized approach to assigning and executing workouts, there can be great benefit to mixing some of these different elements into the same session from time to time.

One of my favorite workouts sandwiches two sets of 20-second hill repeats around two shorter tempo runs. This alternating session challenges both the musculoskeletal and aerobic systems, ensuring that you’re recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers and emphasizing speed, power and explosiveness to some degree at a time when your main focus is improving your aerobic endurance or getting comfortable being uncomfortable at your goal race pace. In short, you get more bang for your training buck!

Here’s how to do it:

  • Warm up with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging, followed by dynamic stretching, drills and strides.
  • On a hill with a 7-8 percent grade, run 3-6 20-second uphill repeats at around 90 percent effort. Focus on attacking the hill, running with erect posture, quick turnover, good knee lift and your arms driving you forward.
  • Walk or jog slowly down the hill to your starting point after each repeat, taking 60-90 seconds for recovery. After the final hill rep, jog slowly for 2:00 to a flatter stretch of road or trail.
  • Following your 2:00 jog recovery, run a 2-3 mile tempo run (or up to 25 minutes if you train by time) on the flatter stretch of road or trail at your goal half-marathon race pace/effort. Running out and back from the base of the hill will serve you well for this portion of the workout.

If you’re new to speed workouts, your session is over and you are done.

Cool down with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging and light stretching. For more experienced runners, there’s another set awaiting you! After finishing the tempo run, jog for 3-4 minutes as recovery, then head back to the hill for another set of hill reps and a second tempo run. After completing the second part of the workout, cool down with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging and light stretching.

Note to runners undertaking a second set: You will not be nearly as fresh as you were when you did the first set, so pay close attention to running with strong form on the hills and not letting your mechanics fall apart. The tempo run, in particular, will be significantly more challenging the second time around. Focus on staying relaxed and fast while maintaining consistent turnover from beginning to end.

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