What are Tempo Runs?
Tempo running is a type of speed training that increases the ability to run faster for longer periods of time. It's used for all types of race training - from 5Ks to marathons - but can be especially helpful for long-distance races. No matter what the ultimate goal is, it's worth getting acquainted with tempo running as it's one of the best ways to improve overall endurance and speed. In the following article you will find out everything you need to know.
How to do tempo runs
A tempo run is simply where you run at a ‘comfortably hard’ pace for a sustained period – ideally at least around 20 minutes and up to about 60 minutes. (You can start with less if you’re a beginner – more on this below).
The idea is that you run at a pace that feels challenging, but which isn’t so challenging that you can’t sustain it without a break for at least 20 minutes. Unlike with interval and fartlek training, a tempo run is all about maintaining the pace for the full run without slowing down or walking at all.
To sum things up – you’re doing a tempo run workout if:
• You’re able to sustain a challenging but attainable running pace for 20 to 60 minutes (more on the technicalities of tempo pacing below).
• Your heart rate stays between about 80 to 90 percent of its maximum rate for the run.
It’s important to note that you should always warm up and cool down before and after your tempo run – just like with any other training.
A bit about the science – why tempo runs are good for improving speed
When we run, there comes a point where we reach something called our ‘lactate threshold’. This is where our body can no longer deliver enough oxygen to our muscles quickly enough – which leads to lactic acid being released. Cue: muscles burning; brain starting up a chant that sounds something like: ‘Nope, can’t do this any more!’.
The main aim of tempo running is to increase your lactate threshold. So, you can run at a higher speed for longer before your body stops being able to deliver oxygen to your muscles quickly enough. Hence why this is a great type of training for setting your PB at the next race.
Are threshold runs the same as tempo runs?
Yep – the science behind tempo runs means they also get called threshold runs.
What should your tempo pace be?
If you’re new to tempo running, it can be tricky to figure out what sort of threshold pace you should be going for. Ultimately, there’ll probably be a bit of trial and error in the beginning. But to help guide you, you should aim for your tempo run pace to be one of the following:
• Around the same or slightly slower than your 10-Mile race pace
• 30-45 seconds slower than your 5K race pace
• A pace you can sustain for the duration of your tempo run – one that feels ‘comfortably hard’ (not super easy, but not so hard that you can’t finish your run)
One way to work out your tempo run pace is to use an online calculator – a quick internet search will throw up plenty of options. All you need to do is put in the time from your most recent race (or run), and it’ll tell you what a good tempo pace for you is.
Tempo runs for beginners – some extra tips
New running in general? Here are some extra tips for getting started with threshold runs:
• Don’t attempt a tempo run until you’re at a point in your training programme where you can run comfortably for a sustained period – at least around 20 minutes.
• Start with shorter tempo runs – aim for 10 minutes to begin with then gradually increase this to 15 minutes, then to around 20 to 25 minutes. Or break your tempo runs down into intervals, for example 4x 5 minutes at tempo pace with 90 seconds recovery.
• Use a heart rate app to get an idea of how much effort you’re exerting – aim for 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate, or:
• Simply go with how you feel for your first few tempo runs – play around with what feels like a comfortably hard pace for you by focusing on running in a way that feels a) relatively challenging and b) sustainable for around 10 minutes (with a view to increasing this over time).
Benefits of tempo running
Tempo running has tons of benefits which mainly centre around improving your fitness, speed and endurance levels:
Improves your lactate clearance
Threshold runs train your body to get better at clearing lactic acid, which in turn increases your lactate threshold (you might also hear this type of workout get called lactate clearance training). This means you can run faster for longer without getting fatigued, and without your muscles burning and feeling heavy.
Improves your cardiovascular fitness
Tempo run workouts train your cardiovascular system to handle higher intensity exercise, which essentially means your body gets better at delivering oxygen to your muscles when you’re working out. This, again, means you can run faster for longer periods.
Helps you run faster races
For the reasons above, tempo running is one of the most effective ways to improve your race time. Incorporating one session a week into your training plan should show you notable differences, helping you to reach your personal best. Nice.
Running gear for tempo runs
As tempo running requires you to run at a relatively fast pace for a sustained period, it’s important to wear clothing that can cope with the intensity of your workout. Aim for workout-wear that’s lightweight and which keeps you ventilated and dry – remember, even on a chilly day you’ll soon work up a sweat on a tempo run.
Tempo running shoes
Perhaps most important of all is to wear a pair of running shoes that are suitable for your tempo workouts. Comfort and durability are key given the fact you’ll be running at a solid pace for a sustained period. We’d recommend checking out our Fresh Foam Tempo shoes range – including the Fresh Foam X Tempo V2, which is constructed with our softest-yet Fresh Foam X midsole technology for next-level comfort. Or, take a look through our FuelCell range, for propulsive running shoes designed to help drive you forward.
And that’s a wrap. We hope this guide has been useful – and that you’re well on your way to setting that next PB. With a bit of practice and patience, tempo running is an incredibly useful tool that can drive your training forward and help you reach new heights.