I’ve said multiple times on this little blog that my favorite type of run is a tempo run. I try to include some form of tempo run each week of running, whether I am specific training for a race or am enjoying a less rigorous off-season. What is a tempo run and why should you include them in your training? Keep on reading!
Whether you are training for a 5K or a marathon, or even if you are just trying to stay fit and maintain a healthy weight, tempo runs should be a regular part of your running. To most basically describe a tempo run, it is a 20 to 60 minute run at a moderately hard effort, sandwiched between a 10 minute warm-up and 10 minute cool-down. Tempo runs are the middle ground between everyday easy runs and so-fast-I-can’t-breathe speed intervals.
Tempo runs are beneficial for all runners and offer quick improvements to your fitness if you do them regularly. Tempo runs build both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscles, which means they improve both speed and endurance. Additionally, running at a faster pace than usual burns more calories and adds variety to your weekly running routine. Tempo runs also mentally train you to handle pushing yourself at a faster pace, which prepares you well for the mental aspect of racing.
To get more specific, your tempo run pace falls between your 10K pace and half-marathon pace. If you want to find yours, enter a recent race time into a calculator like the McMillan Running Calculator (which will give you a range for you tempo pace) or the Jack Daniels’ Running Calculator (which will give you a specific threshold pace). For example, based on my current half marathon pace of 8:05/mile, my tempo pace range is 7:37-7:55/mile based on the McMillan calculator and my threshold pace, according to the Jack Daniels’ Calculator, is 7:53/mile. This is roughly 10-15 seconds slower than my 10K pace and 10 seconds fast than my half marathon pace.
If you don’t have a recent race time or prefer to run according effort, you should have a difficult time talking when you are running at tempo pace. In terms of breathing, you should be breathing at a rate of two counts per inhale, two counts per exhale (compared to easy runs that are three in and two to three out and speed work which is one count inhale and one count exhale).
Since tempo runs encompasses moderately hard paces, there are a variety of different tempo runs. One of the main types of tempo runs is a lactate threshold run, called so because you run at the pace which produces blood lactate in your muscles. Lactate serves as fuel for your muscles, and by training at your lactate threshold pace, you teach your body to run at the fastest pace it can without building up an excess of lactate and slowing your down. Over time, you increase your lactate threshold and become a faster running. The great running coach Jack Daniels prescribes an easy-to-follow and super effective lactate threshold workout: 10 minute warm-up, 20 minutes at tempo pace, and 10 minutes cool-down. You want to aim for an effort that feels like you could hold it for an hour-long race.
If you are training for a specific time goal in the half or full marathon, tempo runs offer you the opportunity to practice running at race pace during your training. Running at race pace helps your body learn how that certain pace feels effort-wise and how to maintain that pace as you get fatigued. In my recent half marathon training, I did weekly race pace runs with 3 to 6 miles at or near my goal pace. You can do race pace runs as you would a regular tempo run, with a one mile warm-up and a one mile cool-down, or you can add some race pace miles on to your long run every 2-3 weeks. For example, instead of doing 12 easy miles, you would run 6 miles easy and then 6 miles at your goal half marathon or marathon pace.
The other type of tempo run is a tempo-interval run. Sometimes known as cruise intervals, tempo intervals are two to four repeats of eight to fifteen minutes run at the faster end of your tempo pace range. Some running plans run tempo intervals at goal race pace, such as 3 x 2 miles at goal half marathon pace.
Tempo runs can last anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes (plus warm-up and cool-down) and offer significant benefits for all runners, especially those looking to run faster or run farther. Try this workout below to add tempo runs to your running routine!