Tempo runs (also known as lactate threshold runs or just threshold runs) are another type of speed workout that help to create a certain level of discomfort in your runs in order to increase your racing performance. (Others you should consider are the fartek and interval training)
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This running workout will push you to run harder and faster for longer periods of time.
This is done by increasing your anaerobic threshold (the point where oxygen is not being delivered fast enough to the muscles and causing lactic acid to build up and fatigue to set in.)
By increasing your anaerobic threshold you are helping your body to adapt to running at a faster pace while pushing fatigue off allowing you to run faster for longer periods of time without tiring so easily.
Tempo workouts should not be the hardest runs that you do but should provide you the base and support to do your hardest runs.
If you are trying to beat a time goal then tempo workouts should definitely be a part of the meat of your speed training plan.
First, are you training for a time goal in a race or are you simply trying to become a faster runner?
In general terms you should be running at a pace that makes you look forward to having your tempo workout end as it should be hard but absolutely manageable to sustain for the required time.
If you are training for a marathon:
Tempos should be run at a slightly faster pace than your marathon time goal.
For example, if your marathon time goal is 8:30 minutes per mile (finishing the marathon at 3:42:52 - check out our pace chart.) you should be running your tempos at about 8:00 - 8:15 minutes per mile.
Trying to become a faster runner:
Run at a pace that would be difficult to carry on a conversation with somebody.
This is usually a good tempo pace. Otherwise try and go about 15-30 seconds per mile faster than your time goal.
Tempo training runs should be run at about 80-90% of your VO2max depending on your running fitness level. Also around 85% of your maximum heart rate.
Our training tool, Train Faster + Smarter will tell you your personal tempo pace based off of your current running fitness level.
The best part about running tempos is that they can be varied and mixed up depending on how you are feeling on that day.
Doing 2-3 segments of tempo running throughout a run.
For example, performing 2 tempo paced running segments for 12 minutes each at your tempo pace.
Sustaining your tempo pace for a set period of time.(20-40 minutes)
Make sure you are warmed up!
As with all speed workouts you must make sure you are warmed up before you start to challenge yourself at running a faster than normal pace.
With tempo running however, your warm-up should just consist of about 10-12 minutes of easy running (about 1-2 miles).
After you have warmed up you will want to increase your speed.
The thing to keep in mind with tempos is that they are NOT fartleks! You do not want to be running as fast as you can, do a short recovery run and then go all out again.
Tempo workouts should last about 20-40 minutes and no more than 1 hour.
Whether you are running a continuous tempo run (e.g. 30 minutes of tempo running) or are doing segments (2 sets of 15 minutes of tempo running) you will want to build up to that level.
Start with one segment.
Go for only 15 minutes, etc.
Depending on your race distance or time goal you can go farther and faster but do so gradually.
Always cool down. Bring your pace and your heart rate back down to normal.
You can also maximize your tempo runs by:
Tempo runs can be performed early on in a marathon or half marathon training plan.
If you are training for a time goal you will definitely want to be incorporating them in the first 2-3 weeks of your training depending on the length of your training plan.
When training to increase your speed of reach a time goal, I would suggest doing a tempo run every week.
Some plans and coaches will have you do a tempo workout 2x in one week or 2 within a 10 day time period.
We include tempo runs in all of our Break a Time Goal 16 Week Marathon Training Plans starting in the early stages of the training plan. They are scheduled once a week. You begin slowly and gradually increase the length of your tempo runs throughout your training plan until your race taper.
These tempo runs are crucial for helping you sustain your pace during a race and in making your marathon or half marathon race pace feel more comfortable while pushing back the time it takes your body to fatigue!
You can go the distance faster!
These are the time goal marathon training plan that we currently offer!
For a breakdown on all the different types of running workouts long distance runners can do see our Running Workouts Guide for long distance runners!
I'll send you my free 24 Hour Timeline Checklist of Things You Should Do After a Long Run when you sign up!