Skip to Content

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

Share

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

If you want to be able to run faster for longer, then speed training like tempo running is an essential part of a well-rounded training plan.

Like interval training and Fartlek training, tempo running is a form of speed training. Its main aim is to get you used to running at a faster pace over longer sustained efforts.

Speed training like tempo running is all about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

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.

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • What is a tempo run?
  • The science behind tempo running
  • How tempo runs help you become a faster runner
  • The benefits of tempo running
  • How to incorporate tempo runs into your training plan
  • How tempo runs and Fartlek training differ
  • How to find your tempo run pace
  • 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?

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.

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

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.

Related: 6 interval training benefits for runners

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. 

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.
  • Build your mental strength when running.
  • 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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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. 

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: What is Fartlek training? 11 Fartlek training advantages and disadvantages

What pace is a tempo run?

What is a 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 tempo run pace calculator. The calculator will tell you your estimated race pace when you enter your time and distance. 

Related: How to pace your run

what is a tempo run

What is a tempo run workout? 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.

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
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!

Share

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 :)

Skip to Instructions