Tempo Runs: Everything You Need To Know | Rockay
Tempo Runs: Everything You Need To Know

If you’re a serious runner, you should seriously get acquainted with tempo runs.

Also known as a threshold runs, these kinds of runs are about building your endurance. Essentially, tempo runs are 25-30 minutes of non-stop running, but at a pace that isn’t extreme–rather, the ideal pace is “comfortably hard.” If you’re already a long distance runner, your “comfortably hard” speed is a speed you can maintain for an entire hour.

Tempo runs are perfect for runners looking to make new progress, or runners readying for a marathon.

Yeah, this sounds a little complicated.  But that’s why we’re here. Well, that and those lovely Rockay socks. Insert shameless plug…here:

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With that out of the way, we’re going to break down for you what makes a tempo run a tempo run, which kind of tempo run is right for you, and how you should fit it into your schedule.

Yes, you will need endurance for this.

What are the Benefits of Tempo Runs?

While known for building endurance, tempo runs will also help increase your speed. Not only will it increase your speed, but you’ll be able to maintain that speed for longer. If nothing else, the addition of tempo runs will give your workouts more diversity. If you keep on doing the same old routine, your muscles will eventually adapt to the process and your progress will plateau. A good Tempo Run will give your muscles one hell of a wake-up call.

Tempo runs mix endurance and speed so you can make gains in both. By running at a consistent pace on a clock, you’re working on your endurance. By working on your pacing, you’re allowing more oxygen to make it to your muscles and working on their fast-twitch fibers, helping you develop more speed.

The Three Temp Run Zones

Tempo runs are designed to target three different zones of your body. I know how technical that sounds, but we’ll break it down more simply.

Lactate Threshold: This is the point where lactic acid is building in your body during a stressful workout. You can increase your Lactate Threshold through Tempo Runs. A low threshold will mean you can’t run as far or as fast for very long. When too much lactic acid develops in the body, you will reach your Anaerobic Threshold.

Anaerobic Threshold: When our workouts get too intense, lactic acid will accumulate in your blood faster than the body can clear it out. Your body will send you a message that it’s approaching this threshold with a burning sensation in your legs. It’s telling you to slow down so the body can recover. Tempo runs will prolong this process, letting you run faster.  

Aerobic Threshold: This is the body’s main energy system during a run. It’s what burns through the oxygen, carbs, fats, proteins and everything else you consume to keep it fueled. The higher your aerobic threshold is, the longer it can sustain you without reaching into its anaerobic reserves, which builds up lactic acid. Once lactic acid starts to build, your body is on a timer for the telltale leg-burning, demanding you stop your run.

Check out out the video below for a bit of a more in-depth look.

Different tempo runs work to increase the capability and efficiency of all of these zones, making you a better all-around runner.

Ready to give your body that wake-up call? If so, keep reading. If not, keep reading anyway. Maybe we’ll change your mind.

How do I do a Tempo Run?

While there are several versions of the tempo tun, they all share an important rule: you can’t stop running at any point in the run. You’re given cooldown periods where you descend to a slower speed to give you time to catch your breath, but there will be no actual stopping until the run is over.

Bring water.

This is how you build speed and endurance. It isn’t pretty, but whatever is?

There are many variations on the tempo run, and we’ll break down as many as possible. You may want to switch between these during the week so you can enhance more of your run throughout the course of a month.

Tempo Run Variation 1: Sustained Tempo Runs

Ready to test your badass credentials? Sustained tempo runs are a great test. They come in multiple variations for both beginners (or those returning from injury) or advanced runners.

 

Beginner Sustained Tempo Run Example:

 

  1. Warm-up for 10 minutes. This warm-up may or may not include a slower-paced run.
  2. Run at your comfortably hard pace for 10 to 15 minutes.

 

Advanced Sustained Temp Run Example:

 

  1. Warm-up run for 5 to 10 minutes at a leisurely pace.
  2. Run for 20 minutes at a comfortably hard pace. If you feel capable, you can increase your sustained tempo run to 40 minutes, but no longer than that. Anything beyond 40 minutes is too much effort and may result in hitting your anaerobic threshold. That acid doesn’t care who it hurts.
  3. Cooldown run for 5 to 10 minutes.

 

Tempo Run Variation 2: Lactate-Threshold Run

 

The key to this tempo run is to keep a speed where your body can flush as much lactate as it produces, thereby allowing you to run for longer distances.

 

Lactate-Threshold Run Example:

 

  1. Warm-up for 10 minutes (light pace run).
  2. Run for 20 minutes at a comfortably hard pace you can hold for an hour. For those of you who can’t run for an hour yet, the “comfortably hard” pace is one that would make it difficult for you to keep up a conversation.  
  3. After 20 minutes, run at a slower pace for 5 to 10 minutes as a cooldown.

 

Tempo Run Variation 3: Lactate Clearance Run

The point a Lactate Clearance Run is fairly obvious with that title and everything. In this temp run, you’ll get more lactate into your bloodstream. When you decrease in speed, your body will be forced to clear the lactate out while still keeping pace. Over time, it will help the body process lactate with more efficiency and help you push your lactate threshold pace somewhat faster.

NOTE: Keep in mind that this is an hour-long tempo exercise. Due to the exertion, you should only do this exercise once every 2 or 3 weeks. We’ll go into more detail about hour-long tempo runs a little later.

 

Lactate Clearance Run Example:

 

  1. Warm-up for 10 minutes.
  2. Run for 5-8 minutes at your comfortably hard pace.
  3. Run for 1 minute at nearly your fastest pace
  4. Again, run for 5-8 minutes at your comfortably hard pace.
  5. Run for 1 minute at nearly your fastest pace
  6. Continue for an hour (or as long as sustainable)
  7. Leave room for a 5 to 10-minute cooldown jog.

 

Tempo Run Variation 4: Tempo Repetitions

This is structurally similar to interval runs, except this is more difficult (yay/sorry).

 

Tempo Repetitions Example:

 

  1. Warm-up for 10 minutes.
  2. Run at nearly your fastest pace for 3 minutes. Descend to your cooldown for 3 minutes to recover. Return to your nearly-fastest pace for another 3 minutes. Descend again to your cooldown pace for 3 more minutes. Your workout time minus the final cooldown run should be 25 or 30 minutes.
  3. Cooldown run for 10 minutes.

 

Tempo Run Variation 5: Race-Pace Run

This one is for our more advanced distance runners. If you’re training for a marathon, this Tempo Run variation is for you. Consider it a dress rehearsal. Race-Pace Runs should be run at a pace you’re hoping to hit during the marathon itself.

NOTE: This is structurally different than the majority of Tempo Runs. This Tempo Run should only be done once every three weeks by subbing out an easy run for this.

 

Half-Marathon Race-Pace Run Example:

 

  1. Warm-up for 2 miles.
  2. Run at the race pace you want to hit during your marathon. Keep this pace for 6 to 8 miles.
  3. Cooldown run for 1 mile.

 

Marathon Race-Pace Run Example:

 

  1. Warm-up for 2 miles.
  2. Run at the race pace you want to hit during your marathon. Keep this pace for 6 to 14 miles.
  3. Cooldown run for 1 mile.

 

Tempo Run Variation 6: Progression Run

Boredom is something all runners feel after a while. Even the most dynamic and intense runs will feel rote after a while. Even if you don’t, your muscles will. They’ll enter a form of stasis and it will be harder to make gains. Feeling a little bored with your regular tempo runs? Worried your body might? That’s where progression runs come in. These runs start easy but build in intensity. Challenging your body by engaging it at a sudden, different pace will be good for both of you. Progression runs are also a bit complicated, so you might want to use a timer on your phone for this.

Progression Run Example:

 

  1. 15-minute warm-up.
  2. Begin your progression run. Speed up by 10 to 15 seconds per mile ever 6 minutes until you’re running at around your threshold. The progression run should last a total of 30 minutes.
  3. Cooldown run for 5 to 10 minutes.

 

Tempo Run Variation 7: Tempo Circuit

This sounds more intimidating than it is. However, tempo circuits should be/ done by advanced runners. Combining distance, speed, and strength-building exercises, this is still a stressful workout that should only be done once every 2 to 3 weeks.

 

  1. 10 to 15-minute warm-up.
  2. Run for a ¼ mile at your comfortably hard pace.
  3. Do 15 squats.
  4. Run for a ¼ mile at your comfortably hard pace.
  5. Do 10 push-ups
  6. Run for a ¼ mile at your comfortably hard pace.
  7. Do 10 dips.
  8. Run for a ¼ mile at your comfortably hard pace.
  9. Plank for 45 seconds.
  10. Cooldown run for 5 to 10 minutes.

 

60-Minute Tempo Runs

Earlier, we suggested your tempo runs should last between 20 (with 40 minutes on the absolute maximum). Anything more and you’re simply putting in too much effort; race-level effort. However, some advanced runners (usually marathon runners) require longer tempo runs to continually push past any plateaus that they have. We’re going to go over a few of these 60-minute Tempo Runs, but we do want to really drive home the fact that these are for very advanced runners.

 

High-Five Tempo Run

Perhaps you’ve gotten yourself interested in tempo runs, and you think that the 20 to 40-minute max isn’t enough for you anymore. This tempo run is a great way to bridge your workouts between the 20-40 and 60-minute exercises.

 

  1. 3-minute warm-up walk.
  2. Run at an easy pace for 5 minutes.
  3. Comfortably hard tempo pace for 5 minutes.
  4. 2 minutes at an easy pace.
  5. Comfortably hard tempo pace for 5 minutes.
  6. 2 minutes at an easy pace.
  7. Comfortably hard tempo pace for 5 minutes.
  8. 2 minutes at an easy pace.
  9. Comfortably hard tempo pace for 5 minutes.
  10. Run at an easy pace for 5 minutes.
  11. Recovery pace for 3 minutes.

 

The “Classic” Tempo Workout

When Doctor Jack Daniels (I often get prescriptions from the other Jack) devised tempo runs, this is the general structure he had in mind. Sure, the time is upwards of an hour, but it has the right ingredients otherwise: a warm-up, a strong period of time running at a tempo pace, and a cooldown period to bring you back down to earth.

 

  1. 3-minute warm-up walk.
  2. Run at an easy pace for 10 minutes.
  3. Run for 20-30 minutes at your comfortably hard tempo pace.
  4. Run for 10 minutes at your easy pace again.
  5. 3-minute cooldown walk.

 

Hilly Tempo Workout

Add some strength-building training to your tempo runs by involving a hill. Not only will your leg strength increase, but your stamina will too, as your body will have to work harder. Over time, flatland distance running will seem comparatively easier. If you don’t live near any hills, the incline setting on a treadmill will work perfectly.

 

  1. 3-minute warm-up walk.
  2. Run at an easy pace for 10 minutes.
  3. Run for 20-30 minutes at your comfortably hard tempo pace.
  4. Run for 10 minutes at your easy pace again.
  5. 3-minute cooldown walk.

When Should I do My Tempo Runs?

Besides pain and plateauing, scheduling is the bane of any serious runner. There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the week to work all of these runs in. Thankfully, if you wish to include them, tempo runs do not need to be done every week. Indeed, they shouldn’t be done every week. Do them once every 2 weeks. Advanced runners training for a marathon should consider doing one every week, but consult with your doctor first.

And there you have it. Tempo runs are serious business. They may not be for everyone, but are they for you? Let us know in the comments!

Sources

  1. Strength Running
  2. Road Runner Sports
  3. Runners World
  4. Miles Split
  5. Runners Connect
  6. BuzzFeed
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