Read The Blog

Follow me on Instagram

Learn About Run Coaching Services

0 In Coach's Corner - Training Tips

Training Plans: The Tempo Run

Next up in this series is the tempo or threshold run.  In case you are just joining, you can catch up on the overview here and the speed work post here.  Similar to last week, the tempo run can mean different things to different people and it can mean different things for different training goals.  From what I have read tempo runs can last anywhere between 15 minutes to 70 minutes and the pace can range anywhere from what would be race pace for 60 minutes to marathon race pace.  The pace selected has a lot to do with the length of time and it should feel comfortably hard.  If the pace cannot be controlled, the workout should either end or the athlete can take a 1-3 minute jogging break before finishing the prescribed time.

Once again, I want to remind you that the “extras” of training should be added in slowly changing only one variable at a time.

Why do we do tempo work?

Tempo work is done to improve lactate threshold and improve high end aerobic capacity.  During a process called glycolysis, glucose is broken down to create energy.  Depending on a couple factors, this can be broken down in to pyruvate or lactate.  As the body shifts to produce more lactate and hydrogen ions, the pH levels in the muscles will begin to lower and performance begins to decrease.  This is thought to be a protective measure which prevents us from stressing the body too hard.  To read more – check out this blog post.  It’s a great reference.

So the goal becomes using lactate more efficiently during exercise to increase the threshold at which we become fatigued.  There’s great news…the body does an amazing job of adapting to the stresses that we put it under.  As we continue to run workouts at and around threshold pace, our bodies make changes such as increasing the number of mitochondria in our cells so that we are able to sustain that pace for longer periods of time. 

This is also a great mental toughness workout.  Since running at tempo pace is comfortably hard, this is going to get us used to running close to our maximum for a period of time.  It takes some discipline to stick through these workouts in the beginning but they feel so good when you finish them.


Examples of Tempo Workouts

In the Jack Daniels training method, he offers two primary types of tempo workouts: the standard tempo and cruise intervals.  For the standard tempo run, the athlete will run at tempo pace for 20 minutes after warming up.  He defines tempo pace as the pace you are capable of racing at for 60 minutes when peaked.  In contrast, the cruise intervals alternate shorter intervals of tempo pace with brief recovery periods.  This type of workout is really targeting the threshold for lactate clearance and the goal is to improve efficiency with lactate clearance so this pace can be held for longer periods of time.

You may also see runs structured like this: 1 mile warm-up, 5 miles are marathon goal pace, 1 mile cool down.  This would also be referred to as a tempo run although the goal here is not to improve lactate clearance since we are working at a slower pace.  The goal of this run is training the runner to be comfortable with the feel of marathon race pace at shorter distances which allows for quick recovery (compared to running a full long run distance at marathon goal pace).

How does this get applied to training?

Tempo work will usually be added after speed work has been solidified as a part of the training regimen.  This will start with shorter work bouts and progress to longer work bouts.  So far, we have talked about speed and tempo work.  When these basic additions are correctly applied to training programs, the athlete will start to notice that their “easy” pace feels easier and they will naturally become faster.  As the athlete’s neuromuscular efficiency increases and their muscles continue to adapt to the training stresses, they will start to use less energy to run the same easy pace.


Have any questions?  Leave them in the comments!