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

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If you want to be able to run faster and longer, then tempo running should be an essential part of your training plan.

Tempo running is designed to get you used to running at a faster pace over longer sustained efforts.

Like other forms of speed training, tempo running is key to being able to run faster.

But what exactly in tempo running and how should it be used in your training?

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • What is a tempo run?
  • What is tempo run pace?
  • What are the benefits of tempo running?
  • How to incorporate tempo runs into your training plan
  • How tempo runs and Fartlek training differ
  • 5 tempo running workouts to help improve endurance and speed

Ready?

Let’s get going!

what is a tempo run

What is a tempo run?

Like interval training and Fartlek training, tempo running is a form of speed training.

It involves you running at a sustained effort so you can build up your endurance and stamina over a period of time.

Tempo runs are also known as ‘threshold’ runs. The term ‘threshold’ refers to lactate threshold.

Your lactate threshold is the level at which the intensity of your run causes lactate (the byproduct of burning carbohydrates) to accumulate in the blood at a faster rate than it can be removed.

The idea is that you run a tempo run at a level at which your body is able to clear as much lactate as it produces.

In other words, your body’s lactate clearance is at the same level as its lactate production, meaning you avoid the burning sensation in your legs.

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

Related: 6 interval training benefits for runners

What is tempo run pace?

A tempo run should be run at a pace that is about 25 to 30 seconds slower than your 5k race pace.

For example, if your 5k race pace is 7:00 minutes per mile, then your tempo run pace will be 7:30 minutes per mile.

Your tempo run is should feel challenging and comfortably hard, but not so challenging that you’re full out sprinting.

In other words, if you feel like you’re going to collapse at the end of your run, then you’re running way too fast.

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

If you’re unsure what your race pace is for a certain distance, the easiest way is to insert your race times into a running pace calculator.

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

Related: What is Fartlek training? 11 Fartlek training advantages and disadvantage

what is a tempo run

What are the benefits of tempo running?

There are many physical and mental benefits to tempo running.

Tempo running helps to:

  • Improve your endurance and stamina.
  • Increase your speed.
  • Build your mental strength when running.
  • Add variety into your training.
  • Boost your running confidence.

Improves your endurance and stamina

As detailed earlier in this guide, tempo running gets your body used to running at a faster, sustained pace and therefore improves your stamina and endurance.

When running at a faster pace for longer periods, you will notice physiological changes in your body which at first may feel challenging if not strange.

However, with consistency and practice, you will soon reap the benefits of tempo running.

Increase your speed

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 speed as well as endurance and stamina. 

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

Builds your mental strength when 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. 

Add variety into your training

Variety and progression are two essential ingredients when looking to your improve running performance.

If you’re used to running at the same pace each week, you will not see any gains in your performance.

By including runs at an easy, steady and quick pace, you will really see the benefits when it comes to your speed.

Boosts your running confidence

For many runners, tempo running 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. 

However, with tempo running, when practiced regularly, you’ve effectively trained your body (and brain) to endure the entire race.

Related: How to run an 8 minute mile

How to incorporate tempo runs in your training

In order to reap the benefits of tempo running, you should do them 1-2 times a week as part of your training routine. 

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

A 40 minute tempo run could look like this:

  1. Warm up
  2. Start with a 10 minute easy run
  3. Complete a 20 minute tempo run
  4. End with a 10 minute easy run
  5. Cool down

A 60 minute tempo run could look like this:

  1. Warm up
  2. Start with a 20 minute easy run
  3. Complete a 20 minute tempo run
  4. End with a 20 minute easy run
  5. Cool down

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 tempo run could look like this:

  1. Warm up
  2. Start with a 20 minute tempo run
  3. Complete a 60 minute easy run
  4. Finish with a 20 minute tempo run
  5. Cool down

Related: How to warm up before a run

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!

Related: How long does it take to run a mile?

what is a tempo run

5 tempo running workouts to improve endurance and speed

Now you know the benefits of tempo running and how to incorporate them into your training, here are a few sample tempo running workouts.

#1 Beginner tempo workout

  • Warm up
  • 10 minute easy run
  • 20 minute easy run
  • 10 minute easy run
  • Cool down

#2 Intermediate tempo workout

  • Warm up
  • 30 minute easy run
  • 20 minute tempo run
  • 30 minute easy run
  • Cool down

#3 Advanced tempo workout

  • Warm up
  • 20 minute tempo run
  • 60 minute easy run
  • 20 minute tempo run
  • Cool down

#4 Hilly tempo workout

  • Warm up
  • 10 minute easy run
  • 20 minute tempo run on hilly terrain
  • 10 minute easy run
  • Cool down

#5 Treadmill tempo workout

  • 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
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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Andy

Wednesday 8th of December 2021

Nice blogg Caroline.

Vicki

Monday 17th of May 2021

I currently run 5k in around 26 minutes and my goal is to to do sub-25. Great to find your training plan. When you say 'add 25 to 30 seconds to your 5k race pace' - is that the pace you are currently capable of running, or the pace you are aiming for?

Caroline Geoghegan

Friday 21st of May 2021

Hi Vicki. Great 5k race time well done! Your tempo pace should be 25-30 seconds slower than your 5k race pace, so if you currently run a 5km in 26 minutes, this works out as roughly 8:22 per mile (5:12 per km). This means your tempo pace should be around 8:50 per mile (5:40 per km). This is the pace you are aiming for as you don't want to be applying your 5k race pace in your tempo runs as you will quickly become fatigued. Hope this helps :)

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