There’s a lot of talk in the running world about tempo runs. Most runners know they’re a good type of running to be doing, but a lot of runners don’t know why or how to properly do them. Add in the questions about why there are so many different types of runs that are similar to tempo runs and it can be quite confusing!
So let’s talk tempo runs: what they are, why they’re important, how to do them correctly, and what other types of runs can achieve the same goal of tempo running.
Why Tempo Runs are Important and How to Do Them Properly
What are tempo runs?
Tempo runs are a sustained effort run. Your tempo pace is as fast as you can run while still running aerobically, just underneath the anaerobic zone. If you run faster than your threshold, your body can’t clear lactate fast enough and you’re out of your target zone. When this happens, you are running anaerobically.
Tempo runs are run at a pace that is “comfortably hard.” A “comfortably hard” pace is one that you can maintain for an hour. Tempo runs are not a sprint. For most runners, a “comfortably hard” pace translates to right around 10K race pace. Tempo runs shouldn’t make you so uncomfortable you’re unable to complete your workout.
Why are tempo runs important?
The purpose of the tempo run is to train your body to sustain faster running for a longer period of time without feeling the effects of muscle fatigue. Tempo runs are the bread and butter of any good training plan.
How do you execute a tempo run?
Tempo runs are most effective in the 20-30 minute range. A typical tempo workout will look something like this: 2 mile easy warm-up, 30 minutes at tempo pace, 1-2 mile cool-down.
Maintaining a true tempo pace for more than 30 minutes will begin to border on too hard an effort, thereby diminishing the gains of the workout and ultimately turning the workout into a race. Your actual mileage will vary depending on your tempo pace. (Your coach or an online tool can help you determine your tempo pace.)
What are some other lactate threshold runs?
Aside from the sustained tempo run, there are a few other workouts you can do.
Tempo intervals are a great workout, especially if you want to run longer without taxing your body. The interval gives your body a brief rest period which helps clear lactate. Tempo intervals are usually done at, or a little bit faster than, tempo pace. An example of a tempo interval run would be: 2 mile warm-up, 3×2 miles @ 5-10 seconds faster than 10K pace with 90 seconds jogging rest between each, 1 mile cool-down.*
Cruise intervals are another type of tempo run and one of my all-time favorite workouts. They’re fast and challenging, yet completely achievable. Cruise intervals are done slightly faster than tempo interval pace. In this case, roughly 15-20 seconds faster than 10K pace. Cruise intervals can be done in a variety of ways. My personal favorite cruise workout is mile repeats, but 800m and 600m repeats work well, too. Here’s an example of a cruise interval workout: 2 mile warm-up, 4×1 mile @ 20 seconds faster than 10K pace with 1 minute walking or jogging rest between each, 1 mile cool-down.*
Things to keep in mind when you tackle tempo runs:
- If you can’t complete the workout, you’re running too fast. Slow down.
- Likewise, if you’re running over 30 minutes and can’t complete the workout, you’re running too long.
- Tempo runs should be comfortably hard. If they’re uncomfortable, you likely need to adjust your pace.
- If your tempo run is too easy, you’re probably not running fast enough and your pace should be adjusted.
Don’t shy away from those tempo runs. Tempo running is challenging but can be really fun if done right. A variety of speed work, threshold runs, and hills will make you a well-rounded, strong runner.
And now it’s time for the Running Coaches’ Corner linkup! Join hosts Debbie, Susie, Lora and yours truly every Wednesday for a fun meeting of the minds to talk all things running. Link up your running posts and find new blogs to follow!
Do you like tempo runs?
Have you run cruise intervals before?
*Please note there is some differing opinion on pace ranges regarding tempo, tempo intervals, and cruise intervals among highly regarded running coaches. Mere seconds are splitting hairs: you will still achieve the goal of a tempo workout if you’re running “comfortably hard.”
Also linking up with Wild Workout Wednesdays!