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The tempo run, in its most basic state, is defined as a sustained, steady effort over a set distance or predetermined length of time. It’s long been a staple workout in many a runner’s training program. Whether you’re training for a fast 5K or getting ready to race a marathon, sprinkling a tempo run or two into your training schedule will give you a lot of bang for your buck. And while the definition of a tempo run depends on who you’re talking to, for our purposes here, we’ll use half-marathon race pace as our target effort level.
Yielding many benefits, including increased stamina and enhanced efficiency, the tempo run also helps you develop the confidence to run your goal race pace for a prolonged period of time. Races, however, aren’t always run at an even effort from start to finish, so it’s important to practice changing gears during some of your toughest training runs. Tempo runs with a “twist” are an effective way to do just that.
So, what’s the twist? It’s as simple as sprinkling a short “burst” of 30 to 60 seconds into your tempo runs every fifth or tenth minute. Such a practice will better prepare you for the rigors of racing, which often involves changing gears, and will also help keep your mind and legs sharp when your focus starts to fade.
Run easily for 10 to 20 minutes, follow with 6 x 20-second strides.
Run for 20-60 minutes (or 3-8 miles depending on your ability/experience level) at your half-marathon race pace (If you don’t have a half marathon time to base this off, add 15-20-seconds per mile to your current 10K race pace). Here’s the twist: Every fifth minute throw in a 30-second “burst” at 5K-10K effort followed by an immediate return to half-marathon pace. Or, for more experienced runners, throw in a 1-minute “burst” at 5K-10K effort every tenth minute followed by an immediate return to half marathon pace.
Run easily for 10-20 minutes, stretch.
Fitting Tempo Runs Into Your Training Schedule
Not training for a half marathon or marathon? Not a problem. The benefits of training at this pace have been shown to benefit distance runners training for any event from the 5K to the marathon. If you don’t have a half marathon time to use as a baseline, add 15-20-seconds per mile to your current 10K race pace to figure out your “tempo” pace. This comfortably challenging effort will develop your aerobic system more effectively than any other type of workout, and has a shorter recovery time than a hard interval session or a set of killer hill repeats.
If you’re training for shorter races such as 5K or 10K, perform this workout (aim for 4-6 miles of running at tempo pace) every other week during the early part of the training cycle. Sustaining this steady effort will do wonders for revving your aerobic engine, while the bursts will help you practice surging off a slow pace.
For half marathoners and marathoners, tempo runs should be a staple session in your weekly training schedule. Alternate the “classic” version of this workout with the “twist”, gradually increasing the length of the tempo run every second or third week as your training progresses. Since the volume of this type of workout can creep up on you quickly, be careful not to perform this workout too close to race day. Ten days out from a key race is plenty of time to recover well and reap the benefits on race day.