In our last blog, we talked about the benefits of the long run in building your running endurance, but for many of us even as we build our endurance and run longer we find it somewhat difficult to maintain our desired pace.
How many of us find ourselves running slower during the latter portion of our runs? I know I do, even when I purposely go out slower on a run sometimes the fatigue will set in and I’ll slow down toward the end of my run.
One of the best ways to maintain that pace over the course of your run, and more importantly over the course of a race, is to throw some tempo runs into your training.
What are tempo runs?
Tempo runs are normally run over a shorter distance, but at a higher pace than at which you normally train. Training like this trains your body to clear lactic acid from the bloodstream quicker, which means you can run longer before fatigue and lactic acid builds up and slows you down.
A tempo run, otherwise known as an anaerobic threshold or lactate-threshold run, is a pace about 25 to 30 seconds per mile slower than your current 5K race pace, according to running coach Jack Daniels, Ph.D., who popularized the tempo run in his book Daniels’ Running Formula.
Benefits of Tempo Runs
Without getting too technical, tempo pace is the effort level at which your body clears as much lactate as it produces. Since your body’s lactate clearance is at the same level as its lactate production, meaning the dreaded dead-leg sensation doesn’t set in.
Tempo runs help you “push back” or increase your anaerobic or lactate threshold, which is critical for running faster for longer periods. Your lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid (a by-product of glucose metabolization) begins to accumulate in muscles.
An accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles leads to the fatigue and soreness that runners experience when running hard. If you can increase your lactate threshold by doing tempo runs, you can reduce the accumulation of lactic acid and run faster without suffering muscle fatigue.
In addition to the physical benefits, tempo runs will help you build the mental toughness and stamina for race day as they take you out of your normal running comfort zone.
Different types of tempo runs
There are essentially two main types of tempo workouts: sustained tempo runs and repetitions at tempo pace.
SUSTAINED TEMPO RUNS
This workout includes one block of running at tempo pace, where there is either a period of time (say, 20 minutes) or a specific distance (say, 3 miles) run at tempo pace with no recovery in the middle of the effort.
Sustained tempo runs should be capped at roughly 40 minutes – any longer and the effort becomes too difficult, bordering on a race effort; however, runners who haven’t done tempo runs or are returning from either an injury or long layoff should start with no more than 15 minutes of sustained tempo running before gradually increasing the duration of the tempo run.
A simple example of a sustained tempo run is shown below:
- Warm up for 1 mile
- Run at sustained tempo pace for 2 – 3 miles
- Cool down for 1 mile
This workout is similar to intervals except they’re done at your tempo pace, with a period of time or distance run at tempo pace followed by a recovery period of either jogging or walking. Repetitions at tempo pace can be run slightly faster than tempo pace since the recovery will help clear more lactate. Though it’s best to pace yourself conservatively rather than too fast.
An example of a tempo repetition run is shown below:
- Warm up for 1 mile
- Run 3 X 1 mile with a 90 – 120 second recovery period of jogging or walking
- Cool down for 1 mile
A good rule if you are starting out with tempo runs or coming back from an injury or long layoff is to start with tempo repetitions and progress to sustained tempo runs. It will allow you to get comfortable running a certain mileage (2 – 3 miles in our example) before moving on to running 2 – 3 miles continuously at tempo pace.
Tempo Run Pace
The pace for your tempo run is the pace at which you’re producing the maximum amount of lactate your body can This is the pace at which you’re producing the maximum amount of lactate that your body can clear. Thus, you are running at your lactate threshold which is the fastest pace you can run aerobically.
If you run any faster, you won’t be able to clear the lactate and you’ll begin to “feel the burn”; if you run slower, you are not pushing your body hard enough. The goal then is to straddle the lactate threshold and not run any faster.
How do you determine this pace? Typically, you can do this by “feel”; by comparing it to your 10K pace; or, if you use a heart monitor at a % of your maximum heart rate.
By feel, you want to run at a “comfortably hard” pace which is somewhere between a “moderate” workout and a “hard” workout; if you are used to training, you’ll settle into a pace that fits this “comfortably hard” definition.
If you want to run it based on your current race pace, you can either look at your 5K race pace and add 25 to 30 seconds as mentioned above; of, if you have significant experience racing at the 10K distance you can use this pace for your tempo runs.
If you run with a heart monitor, using it to help you pace yourself based on the “effort level” of your heart rate then you’ll want to run this at a pace of 85 – 90% of your maximum heart rate. There are two generally acceptable ways to calculate your maximum heart rate, using one of the two calculations below:
- 220 – Age = Maximum Heart Rate
- 217 – (Age * .85) = Maximum Heart Rate
Since these don’t take into consideration fitness levels, you can either get a stress test to get your actual Maximum Heart Rate or, a general rule of thumb is to subtract 3 – 5 beats if your fitness level is below average and add 3 – 5 heart bits if your fitness level is above average.
The weather is starting to get nice outside, so now is a good time to switch up your running and throw in a tempo run every 1 - 2 weeks, depending on your current running fitness level.
Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.