A tempo run, also known also as a lactate-threshold run is a faster-paced workout.
Tempo pace is often described as “comfortably hard.” A run where you can only talk in short sentences, is another way of describing the effort of a tempo run.
Recently, I had the fantastic experience of seeing two runners hit a milestone they had worked towards for many months. Both runners broke 34 minutes for a 10km race. Tempo sessions were a key feature in the build-up to this race. Whilst the time they ran is considered an elite level, it’s just as important for any runner wanting to improve to include tempo running into their training.
Tempo running improves a crucial physiological variable for running success; it increases the lactate-threshold, which over time means you will be able to sustain faster paces for longer.
The most important part of doing a tempo session well is to run it at an even pace. It’s not a run where you build into it, or fade towards the end. What I’m talking about here is making sure the entire run is run at your target tempo pace.
However, it’s easier said than done, and these are my top tips for how you can do this session well.
1. Set your pace
In a tempo session the focus is on running the effort at an even pace at the runner’s target lactate-threshold pace and/or 15km race pace and/or half marathon race pace.
Generally speaking, the more advanced the runner, the closer they should be to a pace they could ideally hold for a maximum of 15km.
2. Warm up sufficiently
Both speed work sessions
and tempo sessions require efforts to be run at a certain pace for the entire session.
This means to get 100% out of each session the intervals need to be run at pace right from the start, so ensure you warm up well to gain maximum benefit.
3. Plan the session to suit your level
Think ‘what’ and ‘where’. Have the route you will run well mapped out and tested – the flatter the terrain more consistent you will be. So an oval or good bike /running path is ideal.
4. Track your pace
Either by knowing the distance of the section you are running for your session and/or by using a GPS sports watch, be sure to keep a record of your session so you can ensure the correct paces are being hit.
Of course this is also a great way or recording data for future reference and improvements.
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So now we know how best to run these sessions, what actual session should you do?
Ideally a tempo effort of 20-25 minutes in length is what you are aiming for, for the majority of runners.
However, it will take time to be able to build up towards this. Start conservatively with efforts between 3-5 minutes followed by a short break as recovery. Over time the effort length increases as you reduce the break time and quantity.
For distance runners one of the key sessions is the tempo run. Personally when I first started doing tempo sessions well, my own running improved very quickly and this led to me becoming a better half and full marathon runner. They form part of my training schedule in any key race build-up.