Whether you’re a seasoned competitor or a newbie to implementing structured training, a regular tempo run should be a staple workout. If you follow the Salty training logs, you’ve probably noticed them pop up often in our weekly recaps. But not all tempos are equal. Some of us do long tempos and some do short tempo intervals. Some of us run 15k-10 mile race pace or faster and others run them closer to marathon pace or even slower.
Yep, there is no one right way to tempo. But their are some general principles to effective tempo runs and some popular variations to choose from. Learn all about tempos after the jump!
First let’s take a look at 4 common tempo variations.
1. Tempo, Jack Daniels’ Style
Let’s take the preeminent coach Jack Daniels’ definition of a tempo: a 20 minute effort at the pace you would run for an hour-long race. For some, this may be 10k pace; for elites it will be closer to half marathon pace. After a warm-up, run that pace for 20 minutes. Simple, yes. Easy, no! To calculate your Jack Daniels style tempo pace (also called threshold pace) you can use this handy calculator.
2. Progression Runs
“Progression” is another word we like to throw around. Start out at an easy pace and gradually get faster. You can make your entire run progressive (i.e., 6 miles, beginning at 9:00 pace and dropping :30/mile) or just a specific portion (i.e., 6 miles with the middle 4 going 7:00, 6:50, 6:40, 6:30). Again, another workout that’s simple on paper but difficult to execute — making it a great exercise in mental toughness!
3. Tempo Intervals
Another fun way to mix up a tempo run is to break it up into intervals of a mile or longer. Instead of a 6 mile tempo you could do 6 x 1 mile at 5-10s faster than your continuous tempo pace with 1:00 recoveries in between. Or you could break it up by time 2 x 15 minutes with 90 seconds jog in between. As a rough guideline, if your chunks are 10-15 minutes or less, keep the rest under a minute or so. Newbies to tempo runs can be more generous with the rest, make the chunks shorter, or reduce the amount of tempo-ing.
4. Long Run + Tempo Miles
Prepping for a marathon? Back off the pace and extend the length of your tempo. If you’re feeling really ambitious, insert some tempo miles into your long run. One way I like to do this is by alternating tempo miles with easy miles – for example, a 15 mile run with even miles (2, 4, 6, etc.) at marathon pace. My favorite marathon-specific workouts is a long run with 20-30 tempo minutes near the beginning and then more at the end, inspired by Jack Daniels. This workout will give you great practice with running hard on tired legs and is a Jack Daniels Style, Long Run with Tempo Intervals. Mind blown!
Q & A Time!
Now that we know a little about the common variations, let’s discuss some common questions runners have about tempos.
Can I take breaks?
Yes! With some caveats, of course. Sometimes breaks are unavoidable due to poop, traffic lights, or poor terrain. Other times you might just feel like you’re in over your head and need a moment to regroup; in this case I consider whether I’m redlining or just bored. (I owe this nugget of genius – and many PRs – to Rosemary!) Try to limit your breaks to a minute to maintain the physiological benefits of the straight tempo.
Is running a tempo faster better?
Not necessarily. If you’re running faster than you’re supposed to for your tempo it could be that you’re overdoing it and won’t recover for your next harder effort. Less likely, you’re getting in shape and this faster pace is the right pace for your speedier self. If you have some experience with tempoing and the effort feels right, go with it. If not, it’s best to err on the side of caution and back off and stick as close to the prescribed pace as possible.
Do I need to do a tempo every week?
That really depends on what you’re training for and your level of fitness. Newbies training to race their first marathon can get away with doing one every other week or so. Seasoned runners need to do them more frequently to continue to improve. As I mentioned above, you don’t have to separate tempos from your other workout days. You can put some tempo into your long run or you could even combine some tempo miles with a track workout (e.g. 2 miles at tempo, followed by 6 x 400, followed by 1 mile at tempo).
Now, how about a testimonial?
Since giving birth to my son back in February, tempo runs have been the only quality work (i.e. faster than easy pace) I’ve run. Despite this and running just 60-70% of my pre-pregnancy mileage, I ran within 80 seconds of my 5k PR back in May and estimate that I’m just 5-8 minutes behind my marathon PR.
Do you do a regular tempo run? Got any tempo questions we can answer for you? Any variations I should try (please don’t say hills!)?