April 19, 2022
Tempo runs are one of the most versatile and valuable training runs you can do. What are tempo runs and how do they help?
I’ve done a lot of tempo running over the years.
I did them as a youngster when I was running cross country. I ran them in my teens during my triathlon prep, and I did them in my build-up for the Olympic triathlon trials in 2007.
I continue to run them regularly as an old-timer. They’ve been a staple for more than half my life.
A tempo run is run at or below your lactate threshold, the pace at which you’re producing the maximum amount of lactate that your body can clear from your muscles and bloodstream.
It’s the fastest pace you can run aerobically.
Run any quicker, and you’ll produce lactate faster than you’re able to clear it. Your muscles will become acidic, and your pace will have to slow.
Tempo runs are frequently defined in three ways.
1. A Comfortably Hard Effort. An effort where you are running fast but can still speak in short sentences. It’s a 5 – 6 out of 10 effort, and if you run just a little faster, it feels significantly harder because you cross your lactate threshold.
2. The Pace You Can Run For An Hour. Another guideline for tempo effort is the pace you can sustain for an hour. For some, that is their 10k pace. For me, it’s a little faster, and for some, it’ll be slower.
3. By Percentage Of Threshold Heart Rate Or Pace. If you train by heart rate or according to pace, using a percentage of threshold is the most accurate way to ensure you’re running at the right tempo effort. For heart rate, you’re looking to run at 96 – 100% of your threshold heart rate. For pace, you’re aiming for 100% – 104% of your threshold pace.
At Coached, we use testing (lactate or FTPa) to determine an athlete’s lactate threshold and calculate training zones. Tempo runs are then run Moderately Hard (zone 3), and athletes can use a mix of heart rate, pace or perceived effort for their sessions.
The primary benefit of tempo running is to raise your lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold pace is an excellent indicator of performance, so it’s something we strive to increase in all our athletes.
The faster you can run while clearing lactate, the quicker you will run.
If your threshold pace is 4:00 /km, running tempo can help drop that to 3:50 and beyond. We frequently see athletes increase their lactate threshold by more than 1 km/h and have seen athletes increase their threshold by over 5 km/h after a few years of structured training.
Tempo running also boosts your mental capacity to hold those faster paces for a longer time. If you want to perform to your potential, a strong mind is just as important as optimal physical conditioning.
1. Traditional Tempo. A traditional tempo run is run without a break. After a warm-up of, say, 20 minutes of easy running, you go straight into your tempo effort, where you run 20 – 40 minutes at your tempo pace, heart rate, or a comfortably hard effort. Follow the tempo with an easy cool-down jog.
2. Tempo Intervals. You run tempo intervals at the same pace, heart rate, or effort as a traditional tempo run. The difference lies in the way you run the session.
While a traditional tempo run is a long constant effort, tempo intervals break the tempo run into shorter intervals with an easy recovery jog between each interval. By breaking the tempo run into intervals, you can run more total time at tempo effort.
After a warm-up of 20 minutes of easy running, you go straight into your tempo intervals, where you run, say, 5 x 8 minutes at your tempo pace, heart rate or effort, with a 90-second easy recovery jog between intervals. Follow the tempo intervals with an easy jog to cool down.
As you can see, tempo running is a fantastic addition to your training. Most runners should do a tempo run every 1-2 weeks during a structured season. Many Coached athletes run a tempo run in most weeks of their season.
It’s a fundamental and effective session.
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