Tempo Run: The Complete Guide to Running at your Lactate Threshold

Tempo Run: The Complete Guide to Running at your Lactate Threshold

Tempo runs are a fantastic way to build confidence as a runner.

The definition of a tempo run often differs from running coach to running coach. In this post, I am going to delve into what a tempo run is for me and how I use them in my training plans and coaching...

...In this post we are going to cover the following:

Before digging into why we do them and who should do them, let’s start at the very beginning...

 

What is a tempo run?

 

Because definitions vary, it is important that you understand what I mean when I talk about a tempo run.

A tempo run is a training run that is at close to, or a little bit quicker, than your marathon race pace. It's done at what is also known as your lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold pace you can run at for a prolonged period without increasing your lactate levels in your blood.

These tempo workouts will typically be run in your peak training block. The length of your tempo run will be dependent on the distance of the race you are training for.

A great way to think of tempo runs is in terms of music. A tempo run would be the equivalent of an uptempo song. It simply means that there is a little bit of energy in the beat of the music and that is exactly what a tempo run should be.

A tempo run shouldn’t be one of those runs that leave you spent because you’ve put all your energy into it. It should be slightly faster than the pace you’re used to. It’s one of those runs that build confidence and should leave you feeling strong and fit.

 

What is the purpose of a tempo run?

 

There are two main reasons why you should do this type of speed workout. I’ve alluded to the first and that is that it should give you a lot of confidence heading into your goal race. The second is that it is a great opportunity to test your nutrition strategy for race day.

Confidence mental toughness play a huge part in being a successful runner and reaching the goals you’re training for. When following the Coach Parry training philosophy, the vast majority of your training runs will feel very easy.

In a big training block, it’s easy to feel like you’re not pushing hard enough on the long and easy runs. You may also feel that you’re struggling on the harder, higher intensity sessions.

A tempo effort is a fantastic way to put your training into practice. They're an opportunity to feel what it feels like to perform at your best. Tempo runs help you build mental strength, and should leave you feeling energised and excited.

The second reason to do one of these threshold runs is to practice taking in nutrition at the intensity that you plan to race at.

 

Taking nutrition onboard at a higher running intensity

 

Often on our slow long runs, it's very easy to eat, take a gel or to drink while you're running easy. But as soon as you lift the intensity, then drinking, taking a gel or eating food and chewing may become a challenge. This happens when you're running and breathing a little bit harder than you normally do.

In your regular long runs, you may be able to eat solids but it is only in the tempo run that you may realise you aren’t able to chew, so a gel would work better. You can only figure that out running slightly faster and that is why tempo runs are great.

What is the purpose of a tempo run?

 

There are two main reasons why you should do this type of speed workout. I’ve alluded to the first and that is that it should give you a lot of confidence heading into your goal race. The second is that it is a great opportunity to test your nutrition strategy for race day.

Confidence mental toughness play a huge part in being a successful runner and reaching the goals you’re training for. When following the Coach Parry training philosophy, the vast majority of your training runs will feel very easy.

 In a big training block, it’s easy to feel like you’re not pushing hard enough on the long and easy runs. You may also feel that you’re struggling on the harder, higher intensity sessions.

A tempo effort is a fantastic way to put your training into practice. They're an opportunity to feel what it feels like to perform at your best. Tempo runs help you build mental strength, and should leave you feeling energised and excited.

The second reason to do one of these threshold runs is to practice taking in nutrition at the intensity that you plan to race at.

 

Taking nutrition onboard at a higher running intensity

 

Often on our slow long runs, it's very easy to eat, take a gel or to drink while you're running easy. But as soon as you lift the intensity, then drinking, taking a gel or eating food and chewing may become a challenge. This happens when you're running and breathing a little bit harder than you normally do.

In your regular long runs, you may be able to eat solids but it is only in the tempo run that you may realise you aren’t able to chew, so a gel would work better. You can only figure that out running slightly faster and that is why tempo runs are great.

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How long should a tempo run be?

 

A question that I get asked quite often is about the distance of a tempo run. How far should be running or how long your tempo efforts should be.

The length of these sessions are dictated by two things. The first is the distance of the race you’re training for and the second is your running ability.

If you’re training for a 10km your tempo run should be between 4km and 6km, if you’re training for a half marathon your tempo run should be between 7km and 12km (4 and 7 miles) while for a marathon they can range between 15km and 25km (8 and 14 miles).

Your running ability will dictate which end of distance range you should be on. If you are a faster runner you will be on the higher end of the scale.

Let’s look at what that actually means…

When I look at how long a tempo run should be, both of these two considerations work hand in hand.

For this example, I am going to use someone who is training for longer races, let's say a marathon. I normally don’t prescribe tempo runs for athletes who are not in the top 5 to 10% of the field.

Tempo runs are a regular feature for runners who run a marathon in under 3 hours. I use them sparingly for runners who are able to run a marathon in under three and a half hours.

For runners who fall outside of the 3:30 marathon range, I get them to run a half marathon, at marathon pace, as their tempo session in a peak training block.

 

When should you do a tempo run?

 

The timing of your tempo run within a training block is crucial.

If placed too early and you won’t get the full benefit of the tempo run. Too late and it could have an adverse effect on your performance on race day

In the 12-week peak block of training before your race, there should be 2 tempo runs. The first one halfway through the 12-week block, at 6 weeks and the second one 3 weeks later, 3 weeks from your goal race.

Both of those tempo runs are opportunities to build your confidence and test your nutrition while running at race pace.

 

How often should you do tempo runs?

 

Following on from the point above, the frequency of these tempo runs is also important.

Doing too many tempo runs in a peak training block can have a negative impact on your training. Too many and you could end up running too many of your training sessions too hard. Too few and you don’t get the benefit of doing tempo runs in the first place

If you are doing long tempo runs as stand-alone training sessions, then the frequency sweet spot is approximately 3 weeks apart.

Anyone can do a tempo run as part of their training, but I find the runners that get the most benefit out of doing them are the more gifted athlete.

 

Can you do tempo run on a treadmill?

 

You can absolutely do a tempo run on a treadmill.

The biggest advantage of doing a tempo run on a treadmill is that when you know what your ideal tempo or marathon race pace is, you can dial it in on the treadmill and you just bang it out.

Being on the treadmill allows you to hold a really good, consistent pace.

Any time there is a reason you can't run outdoors, be it poor weather, be it safety or be it needing to watch your kids while you're training, run on the treadmill.

A treadmill tempo run is going to win over not doing the session every single time.

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