One of the most common errors that athletes make (in any sport) is doing all of their work in that moderate zone. It’s not hard but it’s not really easy either. As a coach, we want you to learn to mix up your paces and not always go out at that default moderate pace which feels normal to you. So we’ve emphasized easy pace as the best way to build general aerobic endurance which you need for a distance running event like the half marathon.
Tempo running is a great way to boost your fitness. What is a tempo run? How does this work and how do you do these workouts?
Unlike track workouts or hill/stair repeats which are very short and fast bouts of work, tempo runs are longer sections where you are working at what we call “top moderate” pace. It’s usually described as a “comfortably hard” pace. This pace is not all out and if fact, if you push the pace of your tempo runs to as fast as you can sustain, you are not hitting the right system we are trying to train.
Tempo workouts are run at or near your lactate threshold. This is the pace at which you’re producing the maximum amount of lactate that your body can clear from your muscles and blood stream. Lactate has a bad rap but really lactate is used by your body as a source of energy. During an easy run, your body continually produces and then clears the lactate.
As your run longer and/or increase the pace, your body starts having difficulty clearing the lactate and fatigue increases. The purpose of a tempo run is to run at a pace where your body becomes efficient at clearing lactate enabling you to run longer at a faster pace.
Yes, you read that right. Run longer at a faster pace. At this point most runners want some of this action!
How do you know what pace to run your tempo runs at? Remember, if you go too fast, you are not training this particular system.
As we’ve mentioned, perceived effort should be “comfortably hard” and it will take concentration to maintain pace especially towards the end of the workout. This is also a great workout to practice mental training skills. There are a couple of ways to figure this pace out.
How often should you be running these workouts?
This depends on your experience. If you are brand new to running and trying for some new distance goals (a first half marathon or a first marathon), we'd have you begin with short sections of tempo running after you have been running consistently 4 - 6 weeks. If you are relatively experienced and NOT coming back from injury, a tempo workout once a week is typical. This workout should not be the day before or after another run of quality (ie you'd not follow a tempo run by a track workout or long run the next day!).
These are challenging workouts and many athletes get nervous about them. That’s ok. Remember we want you to mix up your paces and get out of your moderate pace rut. Tempo runs are challenging but very satisfying when done successfully AND they provide a lot of training bang for the buck.
Time for tempo!