Tempo Running - Reasons Why We Do It and Top Tempo Workouts Explained

What is tempo running?

So when exactly are you running at tempo pace?

Why should you run at tempo pace?

And what are the different running training possiblities at tempo pace?

Read this page and you'll know more...

Oh by the way, I made a video about tempo running as well. Don't want to read? Then simply check out the tempo running video below:

What is Running at Tempo Pace?

Tempo pace is the pace you can maintain for approximately one hour. Depending on your ability level, that's somewhere between half marathon speed and 10k speed.

Tempo Running
When you are an elite level runner, it's very close to your half marathon pace. When you are more middle of the pack, then it's close to your 15k race speed. And when you are more back of the pack, it's likely to be closer to your 10k race speed.

Very broadly speaking, it's a speed between easy pace and interval pace.

Even though that covers a broad range, I think it helps give you an understanding of what type of running is required. You want to push the pace a bit, but not so much that after a couple of minutes you are reeling. You will want to be able to go strongly for a longer period.

Still hard to work it out?

. My first advice would be to just try it out. It may need a bit of trial and error. Additionally, your heart rate monitor can help you here: Zone 3 as defined via the Zoladz Method of Heart Rate monitor Training is your tempo pace zone.

Don't want to use a heart rate monitor?

Then go by feel.

tempo running
Your tempo pace is a steady pace, hard but doable.

Feel like you need to slow down after only a couple of minutes?

Then you are running too fast.

You need to be able to hold your pace!

Experiment a little until you have found the right tempo pace for you.

Why Do We Run at Tempo Pace?

In one sentence: to increase our lactate treshold.

tempo running
No, actually, the only good answer to that question is: to be able to run faster!

What does one have to do with the other?

Tempo pace is also known as lactate treshold pace.

If you run slower than tempo pace, your body will not build up a lot of lactic acid. And the lactic acid you build up, your body will be able to process and get rid off easily enough.

If you go faster than tempo pace (e.g. intervals), lactic acid will build up rapidly in your running muscles. Your body is trying to clear the lactic acid away, but it builds up too rapidly.

When that happens, you will feel your legs getting heavy and before too long, you will need a recovery break.

Wouldn't it be great if you could run fast and not build up so much of that lactic acid?

tempo running
Well, run at tempo pace!

You are then right on the edge: some lactic acid will build up, but your body has just enough capacity to get rid of it. So, it's not too much to make it impossible to run.

At this pace your body is getting trained at dealing with lactic acid removal continuously. Over time your body will get better at that.

Your body will become more efficient at removing lactic acid from your running muscles.

And that is good. Because that means that the next time you run, you will not build up as much lactic acid in your running muscles as the last time you ran at that same pace.

And your body will be able to get rid of it faster.

So something like this:

tempo running

Tempo Pace Running Exercises

There are different exercises I do which involve tempo pace.

  • Short intervals (1 miles)
  • Do mile-intervals at tempo pace and jog in between for two or three minutes. Do about 4 to 6 mile-intervals.

    tempo running
  • Go longer
  • Longer intervals can be something like 4 x 10 minutes (4-5 minute jog in between), 3 x 12 minutes (4-5 minute jog in between) and, my old-time favourite, 2 x 20 minutes (also with 5 minute jog in between).

    That last one is particularly brutal and requires a build-up of tempo workouts over a number of weeks before you do it. It's a tough, tough challenge to keep to that uncomfortably tough pace for the second 20 minutes.

    So, by all means, try it. And if you really want to build up a hatred for tempo running, do it every week .... :) Seriously, the 2 x 20 min tempo is one of those workouts that you shouldn't do all too often. It's a physical and mental challenge that you don't want to deal with too often.

    You could also do one longer prolonged effort of 20-30 minutes.

  • Pyramids
  • I quite like longer pyramid-sessions. In preparing for my races I might do sessions of 50, 70 or 90 minutes. These workouts are build up of 5- or 10-minute intervals of running in a certain heart rate zone.

    tempo running
    However, here you can also go by feel. Do what works best for you.

    Sample workouts I do or have done :

    50 Minute workout
    of 10-minute intervals in Zone 1 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 1

    70 Minute Workout
    of 10-minute intervals in Zone 1 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 1.

    90 Minute workout
    of 10-minute intervals in Zone 1 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 3 - 2 - 1.

    The 90 minute workout serves multiple purposes : it is a combination of long running and tough running.

    Famous running coach Jack Daniels uses an interesting workout which he calls the TLT. That stands for Tempo-Long-Tempo.

    The TLT-session starts, after a warm-up, with a few tempo-intervals, then a long run and finishes with a tempo run (or tempo intervals).
    The thought behind the workout is twofold :

  • Do the long run with already tired legs

  • Do the last tempo session for mental toughness

  • Also when you are already tired you need to be able to go fast.

    One warning: it's a monster. So, again, not something you want to do every week. But it has its place in a well-structured running program!

    Important Things to Keep in Mind with Tempo Runs

    tempo running Warm-up & Cool-down
    Start your training with a warm-up. You can do a dynamic warm-up to start off with and then do easy running for about 10-20 minutes.

    You will want your body to be a little warm before you start running at faster than easy pace.

    A cooling down can be as simple as running the last five or ten minutes of your workout at a slow, easy pace and do some gentle stretching afterwards.

    Also see the following article about stretches:

    The Most Important Running Stretches

    Start short
    Whenever you start doing tempo runs, whether it is for the first time at all or for the first time again after a period of base-building my advice is: start with the short intervals. The first few tempo pace sessions can be quite taxing.

    I have sometimes felt very discouraged after a tempo session. With the feeling that I could not run fast anymore. But after only a couple of weeks your tempo pace training will go better and better. So hang on in there.

    Start with the shorter intervals. I mentioned mile intervals before. But don't be afraid to start off a bit shorter, e.g. start with 5 x 4-5 minutes tempo w 2 minutes break. Build up from there and take it to the next level over a number of weeks.

    Avoid hills
    Now, don't get me wrong, you can do tempo runs on hills. But I think, when you are starting out, avoiding hills makes it easier. Your tempo run is supposed to be a run at a regular, constant effort. Hills make it harder. A workout with tough hills can be a very good workout as well. But when you are getting familiar with tempo running, it is best to be on flat ground. It is simply easier to control your speed and effort.

    tempo running
    Can't avoid the hills? Then make sure you keep to a 'tempo effort' rather than a 'tempo pace', if that makes sense.

    Beware of the weather
    When it is hot outside, you are going to feel a difference. It's hard enough running at an easy pace when it is really hot, but doing quality workouts like tempo workouts is even tougher. Adjust your pace down, when the sun is out at full force!

    Hard - Easy
    A tempo workout counts as a hard day. So the next day, schedule in an easy workout. This can be some cross-training, a recovery run or complete rest. Try to avoid another hard workout like a long run or interval session. It will be too taxing on your body and you run a much higher risk of injuries.

    Tempo running is a great method to get faster. When you are running long and middle distance, tempo running should be a staple in your running program.

    I hope this page helped you in understanding tempo running and in getting the most out of this very useful running pace.

    Tempo workouts are just one component of running training. Make sure to check out the following page. It summarizes a range of different running workouts:

    Eight Different Running Workouts - Why and How You Need to Do These Workouts

    You can only get to peak performance when you train at all different running paces!

    The Whole Page Summarised in One Easy Picture

    tempo running workout

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