Home > Training

3 running workouts that made Mike Woods more nervous than any bike race

Woods recounts the three most fear-inducing workouts from his time at Michigan

Photo by: Sirott.it

Over the weekend, University of Michigan alumnus and Olympic medallist Nick Willis ran a killer workout. He tweeted, “Inspired by my training partner taking down Paul Chelimo today, so I went and ran my best workout in three years.” Willis continued to outline the workout and his times, including that one of the other instances when he ran this well was in college, with Canadian cyclist and two-time Vuelta a España stage winner Mike Woods. Woods replied that he would get more nervous for these University of Michigan workouts than for any bike race.

RELATED: Ferlic drops Chelimo to win XC Town USA Meet of Champions

The Woods, Willis, Nate Brannen, Kevin Sullivan and Alan Webb era of Michigan Track and Field was truly bonkers one. The depth of talent and athletic accomplishment among those names runs deep. All of this to say, Woods wasn’t attending any old track and field practice, he was running among Olympic finalists, medalists and national record-holders. Woods himself would go on to become Canada’s best-known cyclist (he just didn’t know that yet). When asked which varsity workouts made him particularly nervous, Woods listed three that “struck the most fear in my heart.” Here they are. 


RELATED: Olympian Kevin Sullivan reflects on his legendary career

The Michigan

Anyone who has followed the careers of the names listed above has heard of The Michigan. Woods says, “The Michigan was definitely the workout that I was most nervous to take on when I was at school, as it was always an accomplishment to just finish the thing. Whenever I knew I had a Michigan on the schedule, I would be nervous for days prior to the actual training session.”

The workout goes like this: one mile on the track at 10K race pace, followed by a short jog (roughly 200m) to a 2K loop (that had a hill in it) at tempo pace. Then a short 100m jog back to the track to run 1,200m at roughly 5K pace, then repeat the same short recovery jog to the same 2K tempo loop, 100m jog recovery straight into an 800m at 3K pace, short recovery jog to a 2K tempo loop, and then finish it all off with a 400m on the track at what their coach, Ron Warhurst, would yell “AYG” (all you got). 

That’s it – just a cool, continuous 10K of really, really hard work for a bunch of teenagers who would then walk off to their philosophy (?) classes. 

Woods’s best Michigan result:

Mile: 4:34
2K loop: 5:50
1,200m: 3:18
2K loop: 5:48
800m: 2:06
2K loop: 5:40
400m: 58
Note: it’s funny that Woods can still recall the best version of a workout that he ran roughly 14 years ago. 

Indoor track 400s

Woods says he has a suspicion that this is the workout that broke his navicular bone, which was what ended his running career (but began his cycling journey).  The team would run four miles of tempo (which Woods feels was hard to call a tempo as it ended up practically being a race), and then after 10 minutes of recovery, they would do four sets of 4 x 400m. Woods says, “This would make you dizzy, as it was a ton of laps around the short track.  We would also run the workout in lane six (to reduce the stress of the turn), but it meant you always had to do some math while you were at your limit.”

Woods’s best workout:

Four miles: 18:52
Set 1: 66, 65, 64, 64
Set 2: 64, 63, 63, 63
Set 3: 63, 62, 61, 61
Set 4: 59, 59, 58, 57
Canadian track legend and Michigan University coach Kevin Sullivan

The Arb

The Arb is the workout that Willis was referring to in this tweet. Woods says, “This one was a doozy, as all the best Michigan runners would try to see how they stacked up against Alan Webb [3:46 miler]. Webb and Kevin Sullivan [multi-time Canadian record-holder] often had the best splits in most of these workouts. Regardless, we would do between four to six repetitions of the Arb Hill, often preceded by some type of tempo run, and everybody would always try to get as close to Webb’s time as possible, normally failing miserably.”
He continued, “The Arb Hill is a 1K gravel climb that twisted and turned its way up the Ann Arbor arboretum. We would sprint up the thing and then jog down as recovery.  My freshman year at Michigan I did this one often simply trying to hold onto Nate Brannen and Nick Willis, dreaming that one day I would be as, or more, accomplished than these great runners.”