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Workout Of The Week: Descending Tempos

Need both a fitness and confidence boost? Give this session a shot!

It’s a truism amongst running coaches that no one has all the answers. Many  training articles share one particular coaching philosophy with its readers and then supplement the theory with sample schedules for the reader to go mimic on his or her own.

Improving your running, however, is never that simple. There isn’t one cookie-cutter way to improve your aerobic base, fine-tune your speed or set new PRs. The same workout or training program doesn’t work for everyone. This is why some elite runners switch coaches and why coaches are always looking for new ways to train.

If you’re experiencing stagnant race results or just want to try something new in your training, give one of our workouts of the week a shot. It might just be the change in stimulus you need to take your running to the next level.

Descending Tempos

The coach:  Pete Rea of Zap Fitness, Blowing Rock, N.C.

The athlete: Alissa McKaig, 8th at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

When they did it: McKaig completed this taxing workout twice in the last seven weeks of her training before the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2012. Her last descending tempo workout was done 10 days before the race and ended up being a major confidence booster. At the Trials race, McKaig set a 5-minute PR, clocking 2:31:56 to finish eighth.

Why they did it: According to Rea, this workout develops a runner’s anaerobic threshold, which is the point where the body is working so hard it can’t keep up with its oxygen demands. Rea says this workout helped improve McKaig’s running economy and allowed her to run more efficiently at a faster pace.

How they did it: This workout was done at the end of McKaig’s 30K runs. It entails starting out with 7 minutes of harder running at roughly half-marathon pace, followed by 3.5 minutes of jogging recovery (half the total time spent running hard), then 6 minutes of faster running, followed by 3 minutes of rest, then 5 minutes of hard running with 2.5 minutes of rest, continuing that pattern with fast running for of 4-, 3-, 2- and 1-minute intervals and corresponding rest breaks equal to half of the previous hard session. Rea has all his of his runners complete this workout and says that it’s a good workout for anyone from a miler to a marathoner.

How you can apply the workout: This is a good early- to mid-season workout. Rea suggests that you start out your first segment of faster running at 10-15 seconds slower than your current 10K fitness and gradually get faster with each pickup. The first time you try this workout, you may not be able to complete a count down from 7 minutes to 1 minute, so it’s better to start at 4 or 5 minutes, Rea suggests. A common mistake that runners make is going out too fast and not being able to finish the workout. Rea says you should make sure your opening tempos are under control. If you run this workout, the hard running segments should gradually increase in pace. Another way to mix up this workout is to run half of your pickups on the roads and finish the last few on the track, where it’s easier to run at a consistent pace when you are most fatigued.