Whether you’re training for the 800m or the Marathon, the benefits of tempo running can have a huge impact on your performance. Much like the easy run, this is a type of training that everyone should incorporate if they want to improve their overall fitness.
In this article we will highlight what we mean by tempo running, some of the benefits that come with it and how often you should include it in your training week.
What is tempo running?
Tempo training is ‘fast but relaxed’ efforts over a longer period of time than most workouts. This is sometimes referred to as threshold training. Tempo’s are often done in continuous blocks (e.g. a 5mile tempo run). However, they can sometimes be worked into different workouts (e.g a 3mile tempo run followed by 12-15 hill repeats). Marathon runners can even use tempo running as their under-pace workouts (whereas 5k runners wouldn’t).
The easiest way to explain your tempo pace is 20-30seconds/mile slower than your 5k race pace. If you prefer to work in heart rate then working at 80-85% of your maximum HR is your tempo zone. We give ourselves a range here (e.g. 20-30seconds rather than just 20 seconds) because it is highly dependent on how you feel on the day and the environment. For example, if you’re running uphill in the wind and the rain then your pace might be suffer. However if you apply the right amount of effort (HR zone), then you are still technically ‘tempo running’.
Tempo running should rarely last longer than 30-40 minutes, and can have great benefits at even 10minutes. If you can hold your tempo pace for further than this, then it is likely that you are going a bit too slow. As you get fitter your tempo pace will improve, which makes it a great indicator of current fitness.
Coping with lactic acid
This is the primary benefit of tempo training and is the reason why it can be used in training for every distance. When you’re working at a tempo effort your body is essentially on the verge of producing lactate. This is a good time to note that if you start to suffer with lactic early in a tempo run then you have started too fast. The purpose of a tempo run is to try and hover on the fine line between aerobic and anaerobic work.
Training your body in this way makes you more efficient at clearing lactic acid. All the while, you’re also raising your lactic threshold (how hard you need to work to produce lactate). If you can increase your efficiency at clearing lactic acid then you can start holding faster paces for a longer period of time. This essentially means you don’t suffer as much towards the end of a race, so you can push on a little harder.
As you raise your lactate threshold you need to raise your tempo game. If I am doing my tempo runs at 5:15/mile for 6 weeks, they are going to have more benefit in the first week as compared to the last week. It is best practice to try and increase your tempo pace by 3-5 seconds every 4-6 weeks. This depends on how often you train like this but you certainly need to make it progressive.
Other benefits to tempo running
It’s clear that learning to cope with lactic is the main benefit of this type of training. However, there are more benefits to consider. For example if you’re holding 80-85% of your maximum heart rate for 30minutes then you are undertaking a huge aerobic effort. This will help improve your fitness massively. In fact, one of the best ways to get back into shape quicker post-injury is to include a lot of tempo training. Tempo running can give you the overall aerobic effort of a harder workout without the strain of going too fast.
If you’re operating 20seconds away from race pace, then you’re teaching your body to become much more efficient. When it comes to race day, you want to be as efficient as possible. With tempo workouts, you get to develop your running economy at a fast pace without digging into race pace. This no doubt will help avoid over-training injuries as you approach race day.
Finally, frequent tempo running can make you incredibly mentally strong. To hold a tempo run at the right effort/pace for a significant amount of time requires a lot of focus. You need to become aware of your body and whether you’re running too fast or too slow. Running on the verge of lactate production can be uncomfortable at times so mental strength plays a huge role in getting this done.
Working tempo runs into your training
Because these are such an effective and beneficial training tool, tempo running should be done frequently. At the very minimum you should be doing a solid tempo workout every two weeks. However, it is often (and beneficial) for runners complete a tempo run weekly. If you are looking to do 2-3 workouts a week we would highly advise adding tempo runs into that rotation.
If you are new to this type of training then you should be working into it slowly. You could start off with 3x1mile at tempo pace with 90seconds walk/jog inbetween. From this you can add an extra mile, shorten the recovery or work up to 2x2mile tempo. In the end, you should be looking to do 3-6miles continuously at this effort.
It is best practice to make sure the day after a tempo workout is an easy running day. Because you’re working just before lactate production, it is common that some may seem through into your legs. Taking an easy day to help dissipate this will make your next hard effort feel a lot smoother. Start tempo running today to reap the full benefits of your training.
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