What is a tempo run? 5 tempo workouts to increase your endurance and speed

What is a tempo run? 5 tempo workouts to increase your endurance and speed

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It’s official. Tempo running is a great way to make you a faster runner. But what is a tempo run?

Tempo running is a form of speed training. If you want to be able to run faster, speed training is essential as part of a well-rounded training plan to get your body used to running at a faster, sustained pace.

Speed training is all about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. When running at a faster pace, you will notice physiological changes which may feel strange at first, but with consistency and practice, your body will soon get used to running at a faster pace.

In this blog, I’d like to talk about tempo running. I often get asked “What is a tempo run?” In this post, I will break down tempo running and provide tips on how to include this type of training in your plan.

what is a tempo run

What is a tempo run?

A tempo run, also known as a ‘threshold’ run, is a pace about 25 to 30 seconds slower than your 5k race pace.

It is designed to be a challenging pace, but not so much that you’re full out sprinting. If you feel like you’re going to collapse at the end of your run, you’re going way too fast. They should feel ‘comfortably’ hard.

You should be able to hold a tempo run for roughly 20 minutes without running out of gas.

I love tempo runs as they not only help you become a faster and more efficient runner, but they add a bit of variety into your training routine.

There are many ways to incorporate them into your running which I will explain more about below.

But first I want to talk a bit more about tempo running and why it is beneficial for runners.

The science behind tempo running

Tempo runs are also known as ‘threshold’ runs. When done properly, you complete them at a level which your body is able to clear as much lactate – a byproduct of burning carbohydrates – as it produces. 

In other words, your body’s lactate clearance is at the same level as its lactate production, meaning you don’t get the dreaded burning sensation in your legs. 

This is why if you run too fast, you’ve gone beyond the threshold and your body cannot clear the amount of lactate that it is producing. 

According to a 2016 study of race times in recreational endurance runners, tempo runs were more strongly associated with velocity (speed) for shorter distances. Whilst speedwork like interval training had similar associations with velocity for all race distances.

The study added that interval training and tempo runs were all statistically significant predictors of race time

what is a tempo run

How tempo runs help you become faster

Tempo runs cause physiological adaptations in your body. When you regularly run at the lactate threshold for 20 minutes or more, your body gets used to running at this pace and this therefore improves your endurance and stamina. 

Running at a sustained, challenging pace trains your cardiovascular and muscular systems to better deal with faster paces over longer races. 

There are also many physical and mental benefits to tempo running. It really builds your mental strength while running.

Running is often a mental battle with yourself. The first mile is always the hardest, and thereafter it’s a real challenge to keep going.

Tempo running gives you an incredible psychological advantage because you’re safe in the knowledge that you can still feel in control even when running at a challenging pace. 

For many runners, this gives them a huge confidence boost. Those runners who lack endurance often struggle – both physically and mentally – in the middle to late stages of a race. 

How to incorporate tempo runs in your training

In order to reap the benefits of tempo running, you should do them every week as part of your training routine. 

If you’re new to tempo running, I’ve included a few beginner tempo workouts at the end of this post, as well as some more intermediate and advanced workouts.

The key with tempo running is to do it at a challenging pace, but not treat it as an all out run. A tempo run shouldn’t be a sprint. 

Run too fast and you will burn out fast too! You should also try and run at the same, steady pace throughout the run.

So, for example, if your tempo pace is 8.30 per mile, try and stick as close to this for the whole tempo run. 

It may take a few practice runs to ensure you run at a comfortable but steady pace for the whole run, but it will become easier over time.

A good way to insert tempo runs into your training is to sandwich a tempo run with two easy runs.

A 40 minute run could look like this:

  • Start with a 10 minute easy run
  • Complete a 20 minute tempo run
  • End with a 10 minute easy run

A 60 minute run could look like this:

  • Start with a 20 minute easy run
  • Complete a 20 minute tempo run
  • End with a 20 minute easy run

If you’re training for a longer race, like a half marathon or marathon, then include longer tempo runs either during your run or at the end of your long run.

A long run could look like this:

  • Start with a 20 minute tempo run
  • Complete a 60 minute easy run
  • Finish with a 20 minute tempo run

Remember to warm up properly when you start off with a tempo run. You don’t want to go straight into a tempo run cold as you could risk injury. 

As with a 5k, or indeed any race, a warm up is essential to get your body and muscles ready for the race. 

what is a tempo run

How tempo runs and Fartlek training differ

The main difference between tempo running and Fartlek training is that tempo running is structured, whilst Fartlek training is unstructured.

Fartlek is alternating periods of moderate to hard running with easy running to recover over much shorter distances. Whilst tempo running is to time, Fartlek training is much more free flowing.

You judge the harder efforts by how you’re feeling at the time, and not by the pace on your watch.

Fartlek also uses random markers, like lampposts or street blocks, as the finish line for harder efforts. This makes them a welcome, fun addition to any training plan!

what is a tempo run

How to find your tempo run pace

The best way to find out your tempo run pace is to add 25 to 30 seconds to your 5k race pace.

By race pace, I mean the number of minutes it takes you to run one mile. If you run in kilometres, it’s the number of minutes it takes you to run one kilometre.

If you’re unsure what your race pace is, the easiest way is to take your 5k race time and put it into a race pace calculator. I also wrote a blog about how to calculate your race pace.

The calculator will tell you your estimated race pace when you enter your time and distance. 

5 tempo running workouts

5 tempo running workouts

Here are some beginner, intermediate and advanced tempo running workouts to increase your speed and endurance.

Instructions

Beginner

Warm up

10 minute easy run

20 minute easy run

10 minute easy run

Cool down

Intermediate

Warm up

30 minute easy run

20 minute tempo run

30 minute easy run

Cool down

Advanced

Warm up

20 minute tempo run

60 minute easy run

20 minute tempo run

Cool down

Hilly tempo run

Warm up

10 minute easy run

20 minute tempo run on hilly terrain

10 minute easy run

Cool down

Treadmill tempo run

Warm up

10 minute easy run

5 minute tempo run (7 out of 10 effort)

5 minute tempo run (8.5 out of 10 effort)

5 minute tempo run (7 out of 10 effort)

5 minute tempo run (8.5 out of 10 effort)

10 minute easy run

Cool down

Notes

Ensure you warm up properly before each workout and ensure you maintain a steady pace during your tempo runs, apart from the treadmill tempo run workout where you will be adopting two tempo paces to mix things up a bit. We all know running on a treadmill can be boring!

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Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

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