Tempo Run: What is it and why is it worth doing?

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What are tempo runs? If you’ve never heard of a tempo run before, don’t fret! We’ve got the details all lined up for you!

What is a tempo run?

Tempo running is a type of speed workout. This type of workout falls in the same category as fartlek and interval workouts, though those two serve different purposes.

Generally speaking, a tempo run is a sustained effort run that builds up your body’s ability to run faster for longer periods of time, no matter if you’re training for a 5k or a half marathon. 

Coach describing the elements of a tempo run.

Typically you would find a pace that you can maintain for at least 20 minutes, but ideally for a 45-60 minute period of time. So, you want to be fast, but not all-out sprinting. If you think about it in terms of effort, on a scale or 1-10 with 1 being walking slowly, you’d look for a pace that feels like a 6-8 effort.

for whatever amount of time you are running. 

Think of this run as being “comfortably hard.” You wouldn’t want to do it for hours on end, but you won’t be gasping for breath after 10 minutes, either.

Benefits of tempo runs:

So why would a runner want to integrate tempo runs (also known as threshold runs) into their training plan?

Help build your lactate threshold: Your lactate threshold pace is the maximum speed at which you can run while still allowing your body to promote “lactate clearance.” Lactate is what causes that burning sensation and fatigue during a hard effort, due to the lactic acid that builds up in your muscles during an intense workout. The more you practice running at faster paces, the longer you can go before you feel that burn.

Practice builds efficiency: Because practicing threshold training at this pace makes your body more efficient at it, after time you’ll be able to hold this faster pace for longer.

Mental strength: Has your mind ever tried to convince you to take a walk break or stop your run early, even if you weren’t tired yet? That’s your body trying to conserve energy and prevent you from overdoing it.

The last thing you want on race day is for that voice to tempt you into not giving it your all. Tempo runs to incorporate into your training program to build up that mental toughness.

Race effort prep: By regularly practicing tempo runs during your training, come race day your body (and mind!) will know that it’s an achievable task. You’ll be experienced in the speed that’s right for you, and know just how long you can push–also known as your threshold pace.



How do I do a tempo run?

Alright, so you’re convinced of the benefit of a tempo run. Now how do you do one?

Tempo runs are best used after you’ve built up a bit of a running base. Meaning, don’t plan this as your first run after a 6-month hiatus! Your middle distance run (usually midweek) is a good day to plug in this workout.

After a dynamic warm-up and some easier miles to get loosened up, it’s time to get your game on. Finding the right tempo pace might take a little bit of experimenting, and it depends a bit on the distance you’re training for.

Remember, we’re aiming for a 6-8 effort out of 10. If you’re training for a marathon, you can stay closer to a 6 out of 10, whereas a 5k or 10k runner might push closer to an 8 out of 10 effort.

Coach explaining appropriate effort level for tempo run.

Frequency:

Every type of tempo run (and intense speed work in general) doesn’t fall into the “more is better” category. Don’t be tempted to include speed work in every single training session, or you might quickly find yourself burnt out or injured. Rather, one good quality speed session per week can reap great benefits.


More experienced distance runners can include a second speed session in their training week such as an interval workout, but it’s not necessary in order to see improvement in your speed and efficiency.

Sample tempo workouts:

Let’s get you started with two options for a tempo workout:

Tempo run workout:

This workout is great for practicing at the higher end of that 6-8 RPE range.

Warm up with a mile or two of easy running.

Stop and perform a complete a dynamic warm-up of:

Coach doing arm swings warm up

  • 20 arm circles, each direction
  • 20 arm swings
  • 20 leg swings, each leg
  • 10 hip circles, each leg clockwise and counter-clockwise
  • 10 active pigeon stretches, each leg
  • 10 bootstrappers
  • 10 burpees
  • 10 air squats
  • 4 rounds of squat walks

Then for the tempo intervals, you’ll run:

5×5 minute intervals at 7-8/10 effort. Think about your 10k race pace to get an idea of the effort.

Jog for 90-120 seconds between intervals.

Finish with another mile or two of easy running.

Sustained tempo workout

For a different type of tempo workout, you’ll complete one sustained tempo effort of 30 minutes. Your effort will be closer to 6 out of 10 so you can keep the same speed the whole time, avoiding starting faster and slowing down as you go.

Warm up with one or two miles of easy running.

Complete the same dynamic warm-up as above.

Run 30 minutes at 6/10 pace.

Cool down with another mile or two of easy running.

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