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Tempo Running: Why You Should Try It

Two of the most common running goals are maximizing endurance and increasing speed. Whether you’re new to running or training for your first marathon, tempo runs are a great way to achieve both goals and improve your overall running performance. Here’s what you need to know to reap the benefits of this type of training.

What is a tempo run?

Woman running on road next to ocean and mountains.

A tempo run is a type of speed workout similar to Fartlek runs or interval runs. They should be about 20 to 30 minutes long and maintain a steady, difficult state but not overly so. At about 85 to 90% of your maximum heart rate, a tempo run should be a pace you can sustain for at least 20 minutes to an hour during a race.1 

Ideally, with consistent training, tempo runs can help you run faster for extended periods of time. You don’t have to be a professional racer to incorporate tempo runs into your training routine. Anyone can do them, and the benefits are far-reaching and worth the effort.

What are the benefits of a tempo run?

Group of runners taking sharp corner next to a building.

Tempo runs might not be your favorite way to train, but they offer some great benefits for runners of all experience levels, including:

  • Delaying fatigue and the “dead leg” feeling: Lactic acid buildup is what causes that burning feeling and fatigue in your muscles during intense exercise. When you run at your lactate threshold pace during a tempo run, your body can clear the lactate at the same rate it’s produced. As a result, you can keep that “dead leg” feeling at bay for longer. 
  • Running faster for longer periods of time: Consistently training at your threshold pace will help your body become more efficient at it. As you continue to do tempo runs, you’ll develop the ability to run faster for longer.
  • Boosting mental strength: Tempo runs will help you develop the skill of pushing through when things get tough. It requires intense concentration, practice, and mental strength to keep running when you feel like you can’t, but tempo runs will help you learn how to do that.
  • Maintaining better pacing during races: If you regularly do tempo runs, your mind and body will be better prepared to perform at a fast and maintainable pace on race day.
  • Adding variety to your training: Some runners get bored quickly with their training methods. If this sounds like you, adding tempo runs into your regular training routine will help switch things up and keep it exciting and challenging.

Like most kinds of training, these benefits will come over time. So don’t complete one tempo run and be disappointed if your second one doesn’t go as well as you hoped. However, if you stick to it, you’re likely to see some significant gains (physical and mental) from completing tempo runs regularly.

How do you perform a tempo run?

Group of runners on street

For most runners, one quality tempo run every week or two is a great goal. Any more than that, and you might get burned out or injured. Additionally, if you haven’t run in months, give your body a few weeks to acclimate before jumping right into a tempo run. Once you’re ready to try it, schedule it as one of your mid-week running sessions.

Next, find a good spot to run. You can do a tempo run inside on a treadmill or outdoors on a track or multi-use trail. Whatever you feel most comfortable with is best. Before you begin your tempo run, knock out a quick dynamic warm-up routine before running an easy mile or two.

After your muscles are nice and warm, adjust your running pace to a 6 to 8/10 effort. You want it to feel challenging but not to the point where you feel like you can’t run for longer than a few minutes. This is what’s considered your “tempo pace.”

Finding the right tempo pace will take some time and experimenting, so don’t expect to nail it on the first try. Be patient with yourself and adjust your speed gradually as you need to. It could take a few weeks to get the hang of it, but soon enough, you’ll be able to feel your tempo pace quickly and fall right into it.

Examples of tempo runs you can try

Woman running thru the park.

First-time tempo runners often need additional direction. Here are a few structured tempo runs to try out as you get the hang of it. Once you’re more comfortable with this type of training, you can try more challenging tempo runs or create your own.

Beginner tempo run

  • Start with a quick dynamic warm-up.
  • Run for 1 mile at your tempo pace (about 6/10 effort).
  • Walk or rest for 60 seconds.
  • Repeat tempo pace and recovery intervals three or four times.

Advanced tempo intervals

  • Start with a quick dynamic warm-up.
  • Run one 5-minute interval at a 7/10 effort pace.
  • Jog for 1.5 to 2 minutes before beginning the second interval run.
  • Repeat 5 intervals in total.
  • Cool down with a mile or two of easy running.

30-minute tempo run

  • Start with a quick dynamic warm-up.
  • Run 1 to 2 miles at an easy pace.
  • Run at a 6/10 effort pace for 30 minutes without stopping.
  • Cool down with a mile or two of easy running.

Marathon training tempo run

  • Start with a quick dynamic warm-up.
  • Run at your tempo pace for 20 minutes.
  • Run for 20 minutes at an easy pace.
  • Run for 20 minutes at your tempo pace.
  • Cool down with a mile or two of easy running.

Are tempo runs worth it?

2 women high fiving mid race

Whether you’re training for a race or running for fun, tempo runs are an important part of any runner’s training routine. They may be challenging at first, but regardless of your skill or abilities, they’re an effective way to build cardiovascular endurance and establish a solid running pace.

Key Takeaways:

Tempo runs are 20 to 30-minute medium to high-intensity runs. They’re designed to help you build cardiovascular endurance and run faster for longer. With regular tempo runs, you’ll develop the ability to push through fatigue and pace yourself better during long races.

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Sources:

  1. The Tempo Run | TeamFootWorks. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://teamfootworks.org/the-tempo-run/ 

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