Workouts

Workout of the Week: The Michigan

Get used to pace changes in a race with this infamously arduous interval/tempo combination workout.

In my first practice as a member of the Boston Athletic Association racing team in 2004, the group workout was led by John Mortimer, a former seven-time All-American at the University of Michigan and one of the most competitive steeplechasers in the country at the time. The session he had on tap for us that night was “The Michigan” — one of the staple workouts he did as a Wolverine training under the watchful eye of legendary coach Ron Warhurst.

While there are a few different variations of The Michigan, the gist of the workout is to blend off-track tempo running with faster repetitions on the oval. You can manipulate the pace and the length of the intervals to your preference, but at the end of the day this session is meant to simulate the pace changes that often occur during a race. For Warhurst’s charges, this was one of their key workouts to prepare for 8K–10K cross country racing. But with a little tweaking to suit your own needs, competitive age-group runners can make an iteration of this session work for 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon preparation.

How to Do The Michigan

Here’s how to do a standard version of The Michigan. First, find a one-mile out-and-back stretch of road or dirt loop with start and finish roughy a 2–3 minutes jog from a track. On workout day, warm up for 2–3 miles and do 4–6 20-second strides.

  1. Run 1 mile (4 laps) on the track at your current 10K race pace.
  2. After the mile on the track, jog 2–3 minutes off the track to the start of your off-track 1-mile course.
  3. Run 1 mile at your tempo run pace, or roughly 20 seconds per mile slower than the mile you just ran on the track. Ideally the mile course should be slightly rolling.
  4. After completing the mile off the track, jog 2–3 minutes back to the track for the next interval.
  5. Back on the track, run 1,200m (3 laps) at your current 10K pace, aiming to hit the same lap splits you ran for the first mile of the workout.
  6. After the 1,200 on the track, jog 2–3 minutes off the track back to the start of where you’ll run your second tempo mile.
  7. Run 1 mile off the track at your tempo pace.
  8. After completing the mile off the track, jog 2–3 minutes back to the track for the third interval.
  9. Back on the track, run 800m (2 laps) at your current 5K race pace, or roughly 4-5 seconds per lap faster than you ran your first two track intervals.
  10. After the 800 on the track, jog 2–3 minutes off the track back to the start of where you’ll run your third (and last) tempo mile.
  11. Run 1 mile off the track at your tempo pace.
  12. After completing the mile off the track, jog 2–3 minutes back to the track for the last interval.
  13. Back on the track, run 400m (1 lap) faster than your current 5K race pace, or as if you were finishing the last quarter mile of a race. Focus on running fast but relaxed — hold your form!

Finish by cooling down for 2–3 miles of easy jogging. Then stretch, refuel, and rest. You’ll need it.

You could tweak the tempo part of this workout to make it 2 kilometers, or even 2 miles depending on what you’re training for.

Precautions

Be conservative in your pacing for the first part of the workout. And if you have trouble finishing it while hitting your goal times, be easy on yourself. Even coach Warhurst himself said that getting to the end is an achievement in itself: “Anybody that finishes the workout is the star of the workout.”