Runners Train for Endurance With Ron Warhurst's Michigan Workout

This is Your Quick Training Tip, a chance to learn how to work smarter in just a few moments so you can get right to your workout.

As a whole, distance runners can be a fairly sadistic bunch, priding themselves on torturous workouts and monstrously intense training plans. But even the steeliest among them cringe at the thought of “The Michigan,” the famously lung-busting workout developed by former University of Michigan track coach Ron Warhurst. Not only is it universally dreaded by anyone who has ever performed it, but it’s also so difficult that even Warhurst once remarked that “anybody who finishes the workout is the star of the workout.”

Many people don’t. It’s hard. So why should you consider adding such a grueling training session to your already challenging running program? Because few other workouts are better at preparing you for the rigors of race day than the one that forever cemented Warhurst’s name in the annals of competitive running.

The goal of The Michigan is simple: to condition your body to handle the frequent pace changes that occur during competition. The plan accomplishes this by mixing several different types of running (intervals, tempo, steady state) into a single diabolical workout that’s as much a test of a grit as it is a tool to assess and improve your fitness. But if you’re brave enough to add it to your endurance program, you can unlock entirely new levels of performance that will help you cross the finish line faster.

Your move: The Michigan is a punishing workout, so only perform it during the middle of your training cycle on days that you’re feeling particularly strong and unstoppable. Never perform it when tapering for an event—you won’t recover in time to crush it.

To do The Michigan, you’ll need access to a track and a nearby one-mile course, preferably on trails. Begin by warming up with a two-to-three-mile jog followed by strides, and then toe the starting line on the track. Run 1,600 meters (four laps) at your 10K pace. Jog to the start of your one-mile course and run it at your tempo pace, which is slightly slower than your 5K pace. Head back to the track, run 1,200 meters at your 5K pace, and then do another tempo mile. Next, complete 800 meters at a pace slightly faster than your goal 5K, and then do your third (and last) tempo mile. Finally, run 400 meters all-out.

Cool down with another two to three miles of jogging, and then treat yourself to whatever pleasure you reserve for special occasions, because this is one of them. You just completed The Michigan—an undeniably brag-worthy feat—and you can now and forevermore refer to yourself as a true endurance athlete and a complete badass.

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