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Tempo Running For Beginners: What Is A Tempo Run + Benefits

Tempo runs are not a new concept and they’re used extensively in training plans from the 10K distance to marathons. But unless you fully understand what is a tempo run and its purpose, you could be missing out on all the benefits. Read on to discover how to get the most out of this key session for speed and endurance.

what is a tempo run

What Is A Tempo Run?

Tempo running originates from Jack Daniels in his book Daniels’ Running Formula first published in 1998. It’s a variation on a threshold run but at a slightly slower pace. It’s the hardest pace you can comfortably run where your body is still clearing the lactate it’s producing.

You’re running just below your lactate threshold at a pace you can maintain for at least 20 minutes to up to one hour. A pace that’s 25-30 seconds per mile slower than your 5K race pace. It’s a comfortably hard pace – with a Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) of 6 out of 10.

What Is Lactate Threshold?

When you run your body breaks down glucose for energy. By-products of this breakdown are lactate (also known as lactic acid) and hydrogen ions.

At an easy running pace, your body reconverts this lactate acid back into energy and mops up the hydrogen ions. When you speed up and hit your threshold, your production of lactate soars.

Your body can’t clear lactate fast enough and hydrogen ions build up lowering your blood pH. This acidity irritates the muscle nerve endings and your muscles start to seize up.

how to do tempo runs

The Benefits Of Tempo Runs

These are the main reasons you’ll benefit if you incorporate tempo runs into your training:

#1 Improve Your Lactate Threshold

You can improve your body’s ability to clear lactate with tempo runs. By running slightly slower than your threshold pace, you’re training your body to run at a sustained pace for longer periods.

#2 Tempo Training Will Help You Run Faster

Improving your threshold helps you run further and faster before muscle soreness sets in. You’re raising the ceiling of your potential and the result is faster race times.

#3 Tempo Runs Improve Mental Toughness

Adding tempo runs to your training program helps you toughen up as a runner. You’re running at a sustained pace outside your comfort zone, and it’s hard. Repeat this week after week during training and you’ll mentally prepare for your race.

When To Use Tempo Runs

It’s an excellent workout when you’re training for longer distances. If your target is a 5K race, improving your lactate threshold has only a small benefit because you’re running faster than your threshold pace.

For 10K training, tempo runs start to help your speed and endurance, but they become really important for half marathon and marathon training.

In these longer races, running close to your threshold pace is common. You can hold this pace for much longer if you’ve trained your body to clear lactate more efficiently.

Tempo Pace

If you’re using a heart rate monitor, your tempo pace is at 80 to 85% of your maximum heart rate.

Alternatively, tempo pace is a pace you can sustain for an hour. It’s a little slower than your half-marathon pace.

It may take trial and error to find the right pace but based on 5K times:

A tempo pace is around 15-20 seconds per kilometer or 25 to 30 seconds per mile slower than your 5K race pace.

tempo running

How To Tempo Run For Beginners

  • Choose your target tempo running pace: This could be based on a recent 5K time.
  • Warm up with 10 minutes of easy-paced running.
  • Build up your speed: gradually increase your running speed until you hit your target pace.
  • Maintain tempo pace: tempo run for at least 20 minutes.
  • Cool-down: reduce your speed and let your heart rate reduce by running at an easy pace for 5 to 10 minutes.

Get the most out of your workout by gradually increasing the time spent running at your tempo pace. Build up to a 40-minute session.

Beginner runners may find maintaining a tempo pace for 20 minutes is too hard. Instead, start with a 5-minute tempo run and each week gradually increase the time spent running at this pace until you can maintain the full 20 minutes and you’re getting maximum benefit from this type of training. Try these Tempo Run Workouts for beginners and improvers.