The tempo run is a valuable tool in your training arsenal to help increase your race pace.
I see this question often: “How do I increase my pace?”
Typically, people who ask this question are still fairly new to running. By new, I mean they’ve only been consistently running for a couple months. First, I need to say this: running is a long-term sport. You develop fitness over months and years, not days and weeks.
For someone who is less than one year into distance running, my answer would be this: Slowly increase your mileage each week, while following the Injury Prevention Rules and easing up on your mileage every 3-4 weeks. Focus on increasing your distance and revel in the fact that your body can run farther than before. Forget about pace, it will come over time. Run a 5k without stopping, then a 10k. After that, maybe you’ll convince yourself to try a half marathon.
If you have been running at least a year and feel like you have a solid Running Base developed, then the tempo run is a great way to help you improve the pace your body can sustain during a race.
What is a Tempo Run?
You know that feeling when you do an all-out sprint and lactic acid builds up in your muscles, causing that “dead leg” feeling? Tempo runs aren’t quite that hard of an effort. The intensity of a tempo run is just under the point where lactate accumulates.
The anaerobic threshold is the key difference between tempo pace and race pace. A race is an all-out effort and your body bypasses that threshold, when fatigue develops. In a tempo run, you keep your pace just under the anaerobic threshold so the dreaded “dead leg” feeling doesn’t set in.
Getting the Right Pace
As far as a benchmark goes, the speed of your tempo run pace will be 25 to 30 seconds slower than current your most recent 5k pace.
To conduct a tempo run workout, you will have approximately 10 minutes of warm-up at the beginning of your run and 10 minutes of cool-down at the end of the run where your pace is very easy. After your warm-up, you will slowly and steadily increase your pace.
About 2/3 of the way through your workout, you should be running your fastest tempo pace (25-30 seconds slower than 5k pace). I typically hold that pace until 5 minutes before my cool-down starts, then slowly ease off the tempo pace until I hit my easy cool-down pace for the last 10 minutes.
A well-executed tempo run should look something like this on a graph:
A 40-minute tempo run might look something like this:
0-10 minutes: Warm-up at a very easy, slow pace
10-20 minutes: Gradually increase your pace to tempo pace
20-25 minutes: Hold your tempo pace
25-30 minutes: Gradually ease off your tempo pace
30-40 minutes: Cool-down at a very easy, slow pace
What are the Benefits of a Tempo Run?
Tempo runs as a training tool mainly benefit longer distance races such as the half marathon and marathon, because it improves your ability to sustain a faster pace for a longer period of time.
Increases Your Lactate Threshold:
It trains your body to improve the threshold at which is can clear lactate from your muscles at the same race it is produced, holding off the inevitable build-up. This improvement is vital to improving your race pace, because it will allow you to run faster and farther before the “dead leg” sensation kicks in.
Improves Your Mental Toughness:
On race day, you will hear a nasty little voice in your head telling you to ease off your effort to save energy. It will tempt you to NOT give your full effort. The tempo run is mental training to put that nasty little voice back in its box and tell it who’s boss.
This workout strengthens your mind and requires a considerable about of concentration because your effort isn’t quite all-out, and you have to maintain that pace over a period of time.
How Does a Tempo Run Fit into Your Training Plan?
Here, I want to be clear: a tempo run is a type of speed workout.
There are many different types of speed workouts and it can be tempting to want to do them all in one week, but I will warn you against running fast too often. Mind the 80/20 rule of endurance training, which states that 80% of your time training will be at a slow, easy pace. The other 20% will be a hard pace.
First, I recommend you decide how many days per week your body can tolerate speed workouts. If I am increasing mileage, my body can tolerate 1 quality speed workout per week. Sometimes up to 2 speed workouts per week if my mileage is fairly stable. But definitely no more than 2, maximum. The rest of your runs should be at an easy pace, including your long run.
Thus, you should do a tempo run a maximum of once per week. If you do one speed workout per week and also want to incorporate other types of speed workouts such as repetitions or intervals, then you could do a tempo run every other week.
The thing to remember here is do NOT overdo speed workouts. Less is more.
By going at an easy pace 80% of the time during your training, you will have the energy to push hard and get the most benefit your speed workout. If you push too hard too often, you will be kidding yourself into giving a sub-par effort because your body needs to recover.
The Tempo Run: A One-Way Ticket to the Runner’s High
There’s something magical about a tempo run done right.
On a nice day when my body is feeling good and not over-trained, the hard effort of a tempo run is an almost guaranteed “Runner’s High” for me. Something about the hard, but not all-out effort leaves me feeling accomplished, refreshed, and in a great mood.
If you’ve been struggling to find out what a runner’s high is, I first recommend doing slow, easy miles until you gain the fitness to run continuously for 40 minutes to an hour. After that, you can start incorporating tempo runs into your workout routine. The tempo run requires a moderately hard sustained effort for 10-20 minutes, so being able to keep running through it is critical to finding the runner’s high.
One goal you can set that will greatly increase your endurance and your ability to run for a sustained period of time is setting your sights on a half marathon.
Here are 2 ways to get started:
- Join my FREE 6-Day Half Marathon Training Kickstart Course. This course will set you up to get your training started including a workout tracker, training plan recommendations, and mindset training.
- Enroll in the “12 Weeks to Your First Half Marathon” course. This is the FULL course where I walk you through your training plan week by week with advice, helpful things I wish I knew while training for my first half marathon, and what to focus on during that phase of your training. This course is a great way to save you from scouring the internet for information and making painful mistakes!
Do you incorporate tempo runs into your training schedule? When are you most likely to experience the runner’s high?
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About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>