When it comes to running, there are those easy efforts that simply allow you to go on a moving meditation through the outdoors, and there are those track workouts that see you become acutely aware of your internal organs as you struggle to get enough air into your lungs. While we’re advocates for any and all type of exercise here at Men’s Health HQ, if you’re wanting to increase speed and endurance, you’ll need to put in the work when it comes to interval training and speed sessions. Simply running the same comfortable pace for extended miles isn’t going to cut the mustard unfortunately.
Thankfully, one coach developed a workout that has become feared amongst running circles. “The Michigan” is renowned for being a lung-busting workout that hails from former University of Michigan track coach Ron Warhurst. Runners are, by default, something of a sadistic bunch. To pursue running is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable: no matter how easy you might be running, there will inevitably come a point in the run where your body is screaming out to you to stop, and running through that is as much a test of fitness and endurance as it is mental stamina and willpower. But when it comes to the Michigan, it’s another level entirely, with even Warhurst going on to say that “anybody who finishes the workout is the star of the workout.”
It might sound like an exaggeration, but such is the intensity of this workout that most people don’t finish it. Before you disregard it completely though, there is good reason for the Michigan. This is a workout that prepares you for the challenges of race day. While we can train to get comfortable with the distance or mileage, few things better prepare us for race pace quite like this workout.
Ultimately, the goal of the Michigan is to condition your body to handle the frequent pace changes that occur during competition. If you’ve ever watched the 1500m at the Olympics, you’ll know how vexing the race is. This is a distance of tactics: while you get the occasional race that is an attempt to break record pace and simply run hard, most see athletes cruise, with few wanting to go up to the front to lead the pack. But come that final lap, and you need a kick to change pace, and frequently that pace will change over the course of the distance. By mixing several different types of running (intervals, tempo, steady state), the Michigan is a test of grit and can also serve as a tool to improve your fitness.
This is a punishing workout, so it’s recommended that you only perform it during the middle of your training cycle on days that you’re feeling particularly strong. Definitely don’t do this workout when tapering for an event as you won’t recover in time to crush it.
So, just what exactly does the Michigan entail? To do it, you’ll need access to a track and nearby one-mile course, preferably on trails (however any route will do). Start with a warmup of a two-to-three mile jog (3.2-4.8km) followed by strides, and then toe the starting line on the track. Run 1600m (four laps) at your 10km pace. Jog to the start of your one mile course and run it at your tempo pace, which is just slightly slower than your 5km pace. Head back to the track to run 1,200m at your 5km pace, and then do another tempo mile. Then complete 800m at a pace slightly faster than your goal 5km, and then do your third (and last) tempo mile. Finally, run 400m all out.
To cool down, finish with another two-to-three miles of jogging and then recover as you need, with things like stretching, foam rolling and and strides. If you manage to make it through this one, know that it’s a worthy accomplishment and you should reward yourself accordingly.