A tempo run is one of those workouts that is immensely beneficial no matter what your goal is. Training for a half marathon or marathon? Tempo runs will make you more comfortable at running at a harder speed for a long duration of time. Want to beat your 5K or 10K PR? Tempo runs will make you faster by raising your lactate threshold. Do you just run to lose weight and stay fit? Tempo runs burn more calories than a normal run and improve your overall aerobic fitness.
Yes, these rewarding runs build both your speed and endurance! What runner doesn’t want to get faster and be able to run farther?
In theory, the tempo run is simple: you run comfortably hard for 20 to 60 minutes. In practice, however, tempo runs can prove challenging to master. You need to run fast enough to reap the benefits, but not so fast that you burn out and are unable to finish the run. Traditional tempo runs should be run at a pace which you could sustain for an hour-long race. For a majority of runners, this falls somewhere between 10K pace and half marathon pace. If you do not have a recent race time to determine what this pace is, you can also run tempo runs by effort. During a tempo run, your breathing should be hard but controlled, at a rate of about one breath in for every two steps, one breath out for every two steps. You should be able to speak a sentence or short phrase, but not carry on a conversation or be pushing so hard you can barely speak.
While the traditional tempo run provides a superb training stimulus (see here for my traditional tempo workout), your mind and body both benefit from the occasional variation. Adding a twist to your tempo workouts will further improve your fitness, prevent plateauing, and beat boredom.
What sort of twists can you put on a tempo run?
- Throw in some surges to mimic passing people in a race.
- Run on a hilly course to strengthen your legs and practice even pacing.
- Run at your goal race pace.
- Try this workout and make your tempo run into a progression run.
Any running workout can be made into a progression run, from your easy runs to your long runs to even 400 meter repeats. Basically, a progression run involves incrementally increasing up your pace throughout the entirely run, so that you finish at a faster pace than which you started.
Progression runs benefit any runner, but they are particularly useful if you are training for a race because they teach you to develop a finishing kick. If you are not in race training, progression runs can serve as a gentler-on-your-body substitute for speed work, since they give you plenty of time to warm up and ease into your pace.
Progression runs and tempo runs are two of my favorite running workouts, so I thought it would be fun to combine them into a single effective workout. This progressive tempo workout can be adapted no matter what your current level of fitness and can be run on the roads, the trails, the track, or the treadmill. So whether you are running your first race or training for a significant PR or BQ, you can use this progressive tempo run workout in your training to build your speed, increase your endurance, and learn to run a fast finish.
So, for example, based on my current level of fitness, after the warm-up I would begin at about a 7:45/mile pace for the first mile, then run a mile at 7:35-7:40, then 7:30-7:35, and finish with about a 7:25 mile before cooling down. If you want to extend the duration of the workout, simply increase each increment to 1.5-2.5 miles.
Don’t have a half marathon or recent race to base your tempo paces off of? Follow this workout, which bases your pace by effort.
Questions of the Day:
What’s your favorite type of workout to build speed?
From favorite to least favorite, which do you prefer: road, treadmill, track, trail?
Do you run your speed work and tempo runs by effort or by pace?
Receive Weekly Running Tips & Motivation
Subscribe for my weekly newsletter and receive a free download of injury prevention exercises for runners.