How to Do a Tempo Run

Maybe you heard about it here on this channel, or maybe you read about it somewhere else. But either way, you know there’s this thing called a tempo run, and you want to know, how do I actually do that? Well, that’s what we’re going to cover here on this episode of Runner’s High.

Maybe you heard about it here on this channel, or maybe you read about it somewhere else. But either way, you know there’s this thing called a tempo run, and you want to know, how do I actually do that? Well, that’s what we’re going to cover here on this episode of Runner’s High.

If you haven’t been with me here before on the channel, hit that subscribe button, stick around for more episodes of Runner’s High like this, where I talk about everything running from how to do a tempo run to what to do if you got to go poop in the woods. Actually, I haven’t talked about that yet. But if you want me to, I guess we can. You can leave it down in the comment below. Maybe I’ll do a special edition about that.

Anyway, let’s get past the awkward moment and figure out how do we actually do a tempo run? Well, there are various paces that you have to learn and the one you’re going to be most familiar with is long run pace, right? That easy pace where you can go on forever. Whatever the distance is, that’s the pace you’re going to go out and run 80% of the time. Now, tempo is basically a notch up from that. I described this as comfortably hard, or often I say, comfortably uncomfortable, meaning that you’re going harder than that long run pace, there’s some discomfort, you’re not quite enjoying it. It’s not easy, but it’s not hard either.

It’s this point where I feel with my lungs, they’re just starting to kick on a little bit. When you’re sprinting, you’re going to breathing really, really hard. We don’t want that. Even when you’re racing, like 5K’s, you’re breathing much harder, we don’t want that. It’s moving just hard enough to be uncomfortable again, and your lungs are just starting to think about trying to pull in more oxygen.

Physically, this is the point where you’re at 85 to 90% of your max heart rate, and you’re going to be -- anywhere above this is no longer aerobic. So, it’s the very top and of your aerobic pace. Sometimes I’ll refer to this as like up-long. It’s if you went out too aggressively on your long run pace and you could keep it up for a pretty long time, that’s probably your tempo. It is also thought of as the pace you could run for an hour in just an hour. So, something you can keep up for a long period of time, but not indefinitely.

This is the pace I actually talked about in my fourth of July race report, which I just brought out a couple of weeks ago now. In any case, you can go back to that. And I can talk about tempo pace, and how that played into the role with my race. Because leading up to that race, I’d really only been doing a lot of aerobic work, which is those long, slow miles and just don’t have the capacity to go a lot faster than for a race and that duration. It was a four mile race. Now if we were going a mile or two miles, maybe I could have gone faster, even a 5K. But I was really trying to get into my 10K pace, which is going to be about tempo, or a little faster than tempo as I get in shape.

Now the reason that you would do this, because for a long time, people thought, this is stupid. Why run at this pace? You either want to run faster, or you want to run slower. There’s really no benefit. But the point of running at a tempo pace is that you’re going to increase your lactate threshold. So, remember how I said in the beginning of the video, this is the point where anything above this, we’re no longer aerobic.

That is a threshold where you’re crossing over from aerobic into some anaerobic work, and you’re producing lactic acid. So, lactate threshold. So, the idea here is that if you straddle the line between aerobic and non-aerobic, and you are working on producing lactic acid and clearing it from your body, you’re training your body to be more effective at getting rid of lactic acid in your muscles, meaning that they can spend a longer time working at a higher rate.

Now we’ve talked about Vo2 Max before in other videos, where you know, if your aerobic engine increases, you can use oxygen more effectively and produce more energy. Meaning you can go faster, harder, and longer. But there’s a point where Vo2 Max can’t increase anymore. And at that point, you think, oh, I can’t get any faster. But that’s not true.

Because when you increase that lactate threshold, your ability to work at higher levels increases as well. So, Vo2 Max is not the end all be all of measures and physiological traits that you need to be fast. Working in this tempo zone to increase your lactate threshold is another way to increase your speed.

The other benefit which comes on the mental side is that you get used to being uncomfortable. Even for me now, I’ve been doing this 20 years, it’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t change, it’s uncomfortable, and you get more comfortable with it. And what that means is, you’re able to relax mentally, and just sit in the discomfort. It’s uncomfortable but it doesn’t bother you enough to be like, I need to stop, you kind of learn to live with it.

And that is a strength trait, you need to be mentally strong, no matter what race distance you’re going for. Whether it’s the mile, or the marathon, or anything in between, you need mental fortitude to be able to get through those uncomfortable moments in your particular race. So, it’s a great way to train some of that mental fortitude, just sitting in that tempo zone for a long duration of time, because you’re going to be uncomfortable for quite some time.

So, let’s talk about how exactly do you set up a workout like this. There’s really two basic ways to go about setting up a tempo run. And they are continuous or broken. Now they are exactly as it would sound, they are continuous or broken. Broken is the one you can do more things with. The continuous has its place as well. So, say we’re getting ready for a 5K, and you’re going to be spending 20 to 25 minutes racing, maybe 30 minutes. You can spend a tempo run, so that’s going to be slower than your 5K pace for 20 to 30 minutes. So, you warm up, you do a temple run for 20 to 30 minutes, and then you cool down. So, maybe altogether you’ve put in an hour of running. But half of that ends up at this faster pace.

Now, with broken things can get a little more interesting, because you can go slightly faster than that pace you’d be able to do for continuous. Because when you’re broken, you’re actually taking short rest periods where you’re standing or walking for rest. And your body won’t recover, clearing lactic acid out while you’re not producing it in those rest periods, so you can go slightly faster.

One of the kind of go-to broken tempo workouts we did in college getting ready for the 5K in track season would be five to six mile repeats with 60 seconds of rest in between. Now that didn’t mean we’re hauling last for every single mile. It’s at tempo. So, you’re going at that comfortably uncomfortable pace, taking a 60-second break and doing it over again. You’re not trying to just hit those miles as hard as you can, and then have the wheels fall off. It is comfortably uncomfortable and no faster than that.

Straddling that line between aerobic and non-aerobic work is the entire point. So, that’s another benefit you get and that’s learning pacing, knowing that internal feel about where exactly you are physiologically. And that helps you out down the line where you can say, okay, if I’m racing to 5K, I’m in this comfortably uncomfortable zone, I can probably go faster. I’m conditioned to go faster than this. I know I’m not going hard enough.

Or if you’re at 10K, half marathon, marathon and you’re there, you’re like, maybe I need to slow down or this is just right, depending on what your goals are for that particular day. So, keeping that in mind, you know that you can use that not only for physical benefit and mental benefit, but learning at a pace and becoming faster just from spending time in this zone.

Are there other kinds of runs you’re curious about how you do, where they fit into your training? Let me know down in the comments below, leave them for me. Whatever your questions are, I’d like to do a video just for you. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.


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