January 23, 2018

Do You Tempo? How Tempo Runs Can Make You Faster?

Jarrett Pflieger

What exactly is a tempo run and how can you incorporate them into your training to make you faster?

A tempo run is basically a higher paced workout that is faster than an easy run, but a bit slower than race or interval pace. The goal of a tempo run is to sustain a constant speed over a specified distance. How far that distance should be depends on your race distance and what cycle of the season you are in. The pace you should run at depends on your current fitness level and running ability. A good rule of thumb for tempo workouts is that it should be done at a comfortably hard pace. It should be fast, but under control and sustainable.

When you are running at tempo pace, lactate and hydrogen ions are being released into your muscles. These eventually cause your muscles to become acidic and you begin to fatigue and feel “the burn.” During tempo runs, you are training your body to use these byproducts more efficiently, enabling you to run at a faster pace without fatiguing. This point of fatigue is also known as your lactate threshold. Raising your “threshold” is key to being able to hold a faster pace for longer time periods.

Many people make the mistake of focusing too much on long and slow runs to build aerobic base. There is a need for this type of training, as it allows the body to deliver more oxygen to the muscles, but tempo training increases the body’s ability to use that oxygen once it gets to the muscles. You need to incorporate both in your training to reach your potential as a runner.

So how long should your tempo runs be? Well, it depends. The minimum tempo run should be around two to three miles or 15-20 minutes long if you are training for a 5K or a sprint triathlon. Anything less than that and you will not get much benefit. For longer distances like a 10K, four to six miles is probably sufficient. Marathoners or Ironman triathletes will benefit from eight to ten mile tempo runs.

Tempo runs are best performed during peak training weeks since they are relatively high intensity training sessions. Instead of trying to increase time or distance of your tempos, try to increase the speed you can sustain over a fixed distance. Intensity has been shown to be a better stimulus for physical adaptation than volume or duration.

Before going for a tempo run, it is important to thoroughly warm up for 10-15 minutes since you will be running at a high intensity and the risk for injury is higher during these times. Make sure you also cool down for 10-15 minutes at a nice easy pace. Throw in a tempo run once or twice a week and watch your speed increase and your run times drop.

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