Tempo Runs for Beginners

Tempo Runs for Beginners

What are they and when/where do I do them?

I was asked me about tips when starting or doing tempo runs.  This runner believes the pace is too quick, and she won’t be able to sustain the pace.  She also was wondering where’s best for her to do that type of workout: the track, the treadmill or on the roads.
IMG_1169 (1)
It’s very easy to get distracted or scared of workouts if you’ve yet to really grasp their true meaning and purpose.  The pace is suggested to be a pace that you could sustain for 1 hour in length.  Tempo run pace is roughly 88 to 92 percent of your maximum heart rate. 

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.

Carly and Marc running
Carly and Marc running
If, however, your training run pace and your tempo run pace are quite similar, you’ll (potentially) need to do one of two things because you’ll be training at near or actual MP (marathon pace) you’ll be running too close to your anaerobic state for much if not all of your running, when you should be focusing on building aerobic capacity.
Slow down your training runs so that every run is not hard.  When every run is hard, your body has no chance to recover before your next run.  After a while, your body will break down and you’ll be more susceptible to injury or sickness.
Gradually increase your mileage while simultaneously slowing down your training pace.  You’ll get more “bang for your buck” if you run more mileage and slow down your training pace because you will allow your body to bounce back and get ready for your next workout.
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.

Tempo Recommendations:

1.  Do the tempo on a flat-ish course.
2.  Use a GPS or a marked course (a track or treadmill if you must) for the run.
3.  Ease into the tempo portion.
4.  Maintain the same pace throughout – even in the last 400 meters when you still might be feeling good.

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.

Carly in the Love Run sporting TWM.

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.

Remember to properly warm up and cool down from any workout that you attempt to do.

Tempo running explained
Tempo runs for distance runners

Where to run your tempo run

As far as on what surface or environment to use (road, track or treadmill) they all have advantages and disadvantages.  Be sure to plan ahead for whatever terrain you choose.  If traffic is a major factor, you may want to choose the track or treadmill.  If you are terrible at splits, maybe the treadmill will be better for you.  Here is my take on all three:
1.      Treadmill –
a.       Advantage: Consistent splits throughout tempo.
b.      Disadvantage: Boring.
2.      Track –
a.       Advantage: Splits every 400 meters
b.      Disadvantage: Boring
3.      Road –
a.       Advantage: Challenging (can be good and bad.  And will give you a great gauge on RPE (rate of perceived effort).  Simulates the course that you’ll be running.
The Rate of Perceived Effort, via leagendersfitness.com

b.      Disadvantage: Must gauge run by effort (unless you have GPS).  Possible inconsistent splits.

Want more workout ideas?


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