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Liz Crain is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Liz, check out her coaching page.

What is a tempo?

A tempo run, also known as a threshold run, is a run that is at an effort level where your body is able to clear as much lactate as it produces. Lactate is used as an energy source in the mitochondria. Lactate “clearing” prevents lactate levels from increasing too fast, when lactate can’t be cleared as quickly as it is produced then the lactate threshold is breached causing that familiar burning feeling we all know. 

How Should a Tempo Run Feel?

If you aren’t familiar with how tempo workouts should feel there are a couple rules of thumb you can follow. Tempo pace is typically a pace that is 25 to 30 seconds slower than your 5k pace and it’s often said that your tempo pace is a pace you should feel comfortable racing at for an hour. Tempo runs should feel “comfortably hard,” which means it is a pace that may not be conversational, but at no point feels like a race. The beginning of a tempo workout may feel difficult and you may experience some labored breathing, but you should be able to adjust and feel like the pace is fast, but that you are in control. 

Why Tempos Make You Faster

The main reason tempo workouts make you a faster runner is because they boost your lactate threshold. Because you are running near your threshold pace, your body will become more effective at clearing lactate. Therefore, by utilizing tempo workouts you will be able to increase your ability to clear lactate more efficiently, which will help you increase your overall endurance. 

Another reason tempo runs make you a faster runner is because running at tempo pace utilizes and builds both slow and fast twitch muscle fibers, and they also help develop capillary beds, which enables oxygen flow to working muscles. By running at tempo pace you’re allowing more oxygen to make it to your muscles and build on those fast-twitch muscles which will help you develop more speed. 

Why Tempos Increase Mental Toughness

Not only do tempo runs help you develop your muscles, but they help you develop your mind as well. Tempo runs are hard, stressful, and just all around tough. Tempo runs help build mental toughness for races because they teach you how to manage your emotions and reactions when your workout or race get hard. They teach you to embrace the discomfort and to develop more resilience. 

Tempos can also give you more confidence in your running. Knowing that you can run at faster paces can give you huge confidence boosts on race day. 

Types of Tempos

Sustained Tempo: This workout is kind of like an oreo cookie, with a warm up, a block of running at tempo pace, and a cooldown. The tempo effort could range anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 miles. These sustained efforts should not typically exceed 40 minutes because efforts longer than this can be too hard on the body and resemble race effort. 

Tempo Repeats: Tempo repetitions are done similarly to intervals but have longer periods of running and shorter periods of recovery time, typically 60 to 90 seconds.

How to Incorporate Tempos Into Your Routine

Most runners could benefit from including a tempo workout into their routine every 1 to 2 weeks. Because tempo runs are high stress workouts athletes should at most do 2 tempo workouts a week. If you’re training for a shorter race such as a 5k, longer, slower paced tempo runs are best done early into training to help build endurance, with shorter, faster tempos later into the season. For longer races such as the half marathon tempo runs should be kept long and close to goal race pace to build the required endurance for these types of events.

Liz Crain is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about her or to work with Coach Liz, check out her coaching page.