Tempo Runs for Beginners
What are they and when/where do I do them?
The purpose of a tempo run is to find a running pace that is “comfortably hard” and then sustain that pace for a specified number of minutes or miles. The goal of a tempo run is to maintain or increase your body’s ability to clear lactate from your system.
The better you are at clearing lactate from your system, the more efficient you can be at running at faster paces. Sure, running threshold and tempo workouts are harder or faster than your normal basic running pace, but the effort should still be comfortably hard. You should be able to hold small conversations (if you’re running with someone). Tempo runs are all about working on sustaining our lactate threshold – or more plainly, the ability to get rid of the lactic acid that tends to build us as we near the end of races. It is so important to build up our tolerance of this byproduct (lactic acid) because the benefits of clearing it are so important to running fast.
The goal of any tempo should be this: run “comfortably hard” (10k-15k race pace) for an extended period of time. This effort then translates to allow your body to more efficiently clear waste byproduct of running really fast.
Real life application:
If a person raced a half marathon in 2:05:00 (9:32 pace), a coach would recommend that they train at anywhere from 11:00 pace to 11:30 pace per mile on any given training run. This will ensure that they are building mitochondrial, strengthening their aerobic capabilities and working their slow-twitch muscle fibers. Their tempo pace (2:05 half marathon shape) would be anywhere from 9:50-10:15 per mile, which is also a pace that they could sustain for an hour. They would also be able to race a marathon (given appropriate training) in 4:22. Slowing down the training pace will increase your aerobic capacity as well as allowing your body to recover, while simultaneously having the ability to increase mileage.
How to determine YOUR tempo pace
The first thing you should do is have an idea of what shape you’re in. Use a vDOT chart to determine your closest race performance. Then, use that same vDOT number associated with your race performance and find the MP (marathon pace) that lines up with your vDOT number. This is the pace at which you can most likely sustain for an hour race.
To get the full context of vDOT and tempo training, try picking up a copy of Jack Daniels’ book.
To put it another way… To race at a specific pace, you must be able to train at paces faster and slower than the pace at which you’d like to race at. Using vDOT charts help, as well as having a running coach.
Disclosure: There also may be affiliate links present – which means if you buy something with that link, I make a small commission.