If you’re training for a race, whether its a 5k or a marathon, it’s a pretty safe bet that your training plan will include some form of tempo run. Tempo runs are loved by coaches because they’re great at preparing runners for race day. They can help you get fitter and make your body better at running your goal pace.
Runners, on the other hand, have a love-hate relationship with tempo runs. They love the benefits but can hate the lactic burn from running a sustained pace.
What is a tempo run?
The simplest way to think of a tempo run is as a sustained period of running (usually 2 miles or longer) at a set pace. The pace you’re running will depend on your current fitness and the race distance you’re training for.
Threshold tempo runs
Threshold tempo runs involve running at your threshold pace to improve your speed over longer distances. Your lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid is produced in the muscles faster than it’s able to be used for fuel and therefore begins to build up, causing you to slow down. For experienced runners, this would be somewhere between 10k and half-marathon pace. Adding 10-15 seconds per mile to your current 10k race pace, or 20-30 seconds per mile to your 5k pace will be close enough.
You could start out with a session such as 3x 5 min at your threshold pace with 3 mins easy recovery. Make sure you do a thorough warm-up first. Over the weeks you can build this up to 2x 8 mins then 2x 10 minutes and 2x 15 mins at threshold pace. These sessions are great for runners working towards half marathon and marathon races.
Practicing goal pace
Tempo runs are also a great way to practice running at a goal race pace. This can improve your running efficiency at goal pace and also make it easier to judge your speed meaning you’ll be less reliant on your GPS watch on race day.
For a marathon or half marathon, your tempo run might be a 5 mile run with the middle 3 miles run at goal pace. Over the weeks your training plan might progress this up to 10 miles for a marathon.
Find out how to calculate your marathon pace.
For 5k and 10k races, you should be practicing your goal race pace in smaller chunks. So your ‘tempo run’ might look a lot more like a longer interval session. Try 5 to 8 minute long efforts at goal pace for a 5k and up to 20 minutes for a 10k.
How often to do them?
Tempo runs should be done no more than once per week. They’re a hard session and your body needs time to recover to really reap the benefits. You can use them alongside interval training, however if you’re new to this kind of training, you can alternate doing an interval session one week and a tempo run the next.
Tempo runs for trail runners
If you’re running on trail or a hilly course, it will be difficult to sustain the same pace throughout while maintaining the same effort. In this case, you should think less in terms of pace and more about perceived effort or heart rate. Try to keep your effort level throughout the tempo section and adjust your pace as needed.
Making a tempo run easier
It can be difficult to push yourself over a longer time run but there are a faith tricks you can use to help make them a little easier.
- Run with other runners – it’s much easier to push yourself in a group.
- Run on a treadmill – this allows you to just concentrate on running without having to worry about staying on pace.
- Tempo run a race – use a shorter race or parkrun as a tempo workout. Just make sure you do an easy 10 mins before and after to warm-up and cool down.
Mental benefits of tempo runs
Aside from the physical benefits of doing a regular tempo run, they can help make you a stronger runner mentally. Each time you have to push through to complete your tempo run in training you’ll be building mental strength and resilience that you can draw on come race day. Practicing your race pace can give you the confidence to shoot for your next PB knowing that you were able to maintain the pace in training.