What are Tempo Runs?
Tempo runs or “Anaerobic Threshold” runs are at around our highest aerobic pace. Any faster and we’ll cross into an even more anaerobic zone.
Basically, it is the fastest we can run whilst adequately clearing lactic acid so that it doesn’t build up enough to stop us quickly. Our clearance of lactic acid is slightly lower than the production of lactic acid essentially.
Typically, it is a pace we could probably sustain for half-an-hour when we have adequate fitness. The effort should feel “comfortably hard” and we should feel like we can hold the effort for 30 to 60 minutes before our lactic acid levels become too great for us to continue.
Benefits of Tempo Runs:
The primary and most important goal of doing a tempo workout is to improve our ability to clear lactic acids so that we are able to run at faster paces/speeds for longer periods of time. Now who doesn’t want that?
- Our speeds at lower heart rates will improve.
- Our running economy will improve as running at the faster paces will increasingly engage our larger muscle groups to help us become more efficient at both slower and faster paces
- Improved mental strength – we teach ourselves to hold it together despite the increased discomfort for a prolonged period
- As we are running at the fine line between aerobic-anaerobic threshold, our aerobic fitness will improve significantly
- Improves our awareness of pace; what we can and can’t handle
How do we choose the correct ‘threshold’ pace for a tempo run?
For the “trained” population, it would be the pace we are running at when our heart rate is sitting at 88-90% of our maximum heart rate.
For beginners, it would be what our pace is at more than or equal to 80% of our maximum heart rate.
If we were very new to all of this or do not have a heart rate monitor, we would recommend finding a “comfortably hard” pace that we can just maintain for 30 minutes. If we are unable to, then we need to slow down our tempo pace for the time being until our fitness builds up.
How we do Tempo Runs for beginners:
- Warm up for 10 to 12 minutes with a relaxed jog to get our heart rate up and increased blood flowing to all of the necessary muscle groups.
- Get our legs woken up for our tempo run with some more ‘strides’/’pickups’ for 30-80m x4-10 sets.
- When we feel we are ready, speed up to our “comfortably hard” tempo pace (described above).
- Try to maintain this pace for 20 minutes. As we get fitter, gradually increase the tempo portion of our workout up to 40 minutes.
- Warm down with an easy run for 5-10 minutes
- Complete our run with some more ‘strides’/’pickups’ for 30-80m x4-10 sets
If we are still getting used to running in a harder zone, we recommend breaking the tempo run into 2-4 ‘chunks’. For example, instead of 20 minutes straight, we can instead do 2 lots of 10 minutes with an easy jog in between for 3-5 minutes.
We can even break it down to 4 lots of 5 minutes with an easy jog in between until we are adequately recovered.
Key tips before we get started:
- Always, always warm up for at least ten minutes with a relaxed jog. This is so important to reduce injury risk and to improve the quality of our ‘working set’ tempo run.
- Try to find a course that will be completely uninterrupted especially by dreaded traffic lights and cars. Our local track or sports ovals work very well for tempos.
- Our heart rate and perceived efforts for tempos should be fairly constant every week. We find that our pace increases as we improve over time for the same heart rate and efforts. We try not obsess over our watches and don’t expect to improve our pace on every workout week-in-week-out though!
- Especially when working out with fellow runners, we avoid treating this workout as a race. This will make the workout harder to recover from and increase our risk of injuries.
If we are new to running or have not run in a long time, our personal preference is to spend at least 3-4 weeks on aerobic base building (running slow and comfortably in the aerobic heart rate zones) before adding in more advanced running workouts. One can learn how to do aerobic base training here.
When we are ready, we add tempo running into our running once a week to reap the benefits of the workouts and to spice up our running plan. We love doing tempo runs and have found them to dramatically improve our ability to hold faster paces when racing!