What are they?
Tempo runs are the simplest of all speed workouts. Just warm up, run at a challenging, steady pace you can hold for the set distance and then cool down. They are also known as lactate, anaerobic or fatigue threshold runs. When you go above your threshold, lactic acid builds up, breathing becomes laboured, running form gets ragged, muscles tense and tighten as fatigue sets in. With tempo runs, you train close to your threshold without exceeding it. As a result, you’ll raise it, enabling you to run faster and farther before fatigue sets in. Holding a tough enough pace is the key to performance.
Tempo runs offer many advantages. Although your lactate threshold can be improved with shorter, faster intervals, tempo runs allow for a higher quantity of threshold training per workout, and at safer speeds. Since the pace of tempo runs is not as hard as other types of speed training, recovery is quicker and injury less likely. Its less stressful than intervals. Tempo running by its nature is controlled so it guards against the tendency to train as hard as you can. Tempo training will help you develop a feel for even pace (hence the term ‘tempo’) so you’ll run more evenly in races.
The key to tempo training is to strike the correct balance between speed and mileage. You should be aiming to complete runs (after warm up) between 3 to 5 miles at a challenging pace that you can hold for that distance. You can judge the required pace by ‘perceived exertion’. You should be running hard enough for breathing to become faster but you should not be gasping for air. Tempo pace will put you in a two strides-in, one stride-out rhythm for your breathing. If you are breathing in and out with each stride then you are going at interval pace, so slow down! You should be able to think clearly and talk, but not in full sentences. You should be running in some discomfort but not so much so that it causes you to bring your run to an abrupt end. Tempo pace is usually approximately 15 to 30 seconds per mile slower than your 10K pace or 30 to 45 seconds slower than your 5K pace. If using a heart rate monitor the training should be at approximately 85% of maximum heart rate. A quick and easy rule to use is that of the ’20:20’. Most runners will get a great deal of benefit from a 20 minute tempo run ran at 20 seconds per miles slower than their 10K pace.
You won’t get it right first time! Practice is the key until you find the pace that you can maintain throughout the tempo run that is hard enough for you to get the benefits in respect to your lactate threshold.
You can run tempo runs anywhere. They can be, for example, completed off road or even on a treadmill. Just ensure you follow the pattern of (i) adequate warm up (ii) timed tempo run with a focus on pace and form and (iii) adequate cool down.