Treadmill Tip of the Week: 4 Boredom-Busting Tempo Workouts

imageTempo runs are the bread and butter of many training plans. The basic tempo run is usually a sustained effort somewhere between 15-minutes and an hour at anywhere between 10k and marathon pace. Sustained one-pace tempo runs are great … unless you are stuck on the treadmill, which turns sweet innocent sustained one-pace tempos into torture.

While most everyone agrees the number one problem we encounter when we move our running indoors is boredom, that is easily remedied with a subscription to Netflix or a rockin’ music mix. But when we have a sustained hard effort, the boredom manifests itself into an epic battle of will. Time all but stands still with fifteen seconds feeling like fifteen minutes and .03 miles feeling like 3.0 miles. Negative thoughts are always a problem, but jump on a treadmill for a tempo and negative thoughts bust out their megaphones. For those of us with big plans this spring, we must persevere and work on raising our lactate thresholds, right?! The question is how can we do it and stay sane?

The trick is in breaking up the workout and changing things up. When you’re working in smaller chunks rather than one giant block of sustained same-pace miles, suddenly the workout is done, you’re drenched in sweat (thankfully you have your trusty towel handy), with your tempo workout accomplished!

The next race that I have on the docket is the inaugural Cottage Grove Half-Marathon here in my little town on my favorite rails-to-trails route, the Row River Trail. For the first time ever I’ve enlisted a coach of sorts (my running dad) to give me workouts and a training plan for this race, rather than sort-of-following a book or going by feel or doing whatever my friend is doing on any given day. He knows I’m often stuck on the treadmill for my tempo workouts, so he’s written them with that in mind. Most plans don’t take these things into consideration and simply say “Do a six-mile tempo at xx pace.”

Following are four of my favorite treadmill tempo workouts. They all contain intervals of paces ranging from your current marathon pace (MP), half marathon pace (HMP) all the way down to mile(ish) pace. Remember to use the correct pace based on what you could do today, not what you hope to do in a few months. (If you don’t know all your paces, use this calculator, then play around if they don’t seem quite right.)

Below are some alternatives to the standard six mile tempo runs, with a four-mile modification.

The 3 x 2 Cut-Down Tempo

Warm-up: 3 miles.

Workout: 3 x 2-miles with first set @MGP, second set @HMP, third set @10k pace.

Recoveries: Jog or walk for 3-minutes between each 2-mile set.

Cool-down: At least 1 mile.

4-mile modification: 1 mile @MGP, 2 miles @HMP, 1 mile @ 10k.

For this one, my interval paces were 7:15, 7:00, and 6:40. I jogged the 3-minute break between each set at a 10:00-minute pace. Though the tempo pace feels fast, knowing that you only have to keep it up for two-miles makes it oh-so-doable.

The Tempo Ladder of Zoom!

Warm-up: 2-miles.

Workout: 1 mile @HMP, 2 x .5 miles @10k pace, 4 x 400 @5k pace, 2 x 800 @10k pace, 1 mile @ HMP.

Recoveries: 60-second jog in between intervals, except jog 90-seconds after the first mile.

Cool-down: At least 1 mile.

4 mile modification: 1 mile @HMP, 1 x .5 @ 10k, 2 x 400 at 5k, 1 x .5 @10k, 1-mile @ HMP.

For this one my paces were: mile @6:58, 800s @6:40, 400s @6:18, jog pace @10:00. Varying the speed and the duration you run each set makes this workout fast, in every sense of the term. Definitely one I have written down on a sticky note to check off as I go.

Tempo Royale with Speed!

Warm-up: 3-miles

Workout: 3 x .5 @10k pace, 8 x .25 @ 5k, 6 x .13 @ mile(ish) pace.

Recoveries: Take 90-seconds jog rest between reps and two-minutes jog rests between sets.

Cool down: At least a mile.

4 mile modification: 2 x .5 @10k pace, 6 x .25 @5k pace. 4 x .13 @mile(ish) pace.

This workout will kick your ass; my legs are definitely feeling it the day after. Major runner’s high, though! For this one, my paces were: 800s @6:40, 400s @6:18, 200s @6:00, jog pace @10:00. I was so focused and oxygen-deprived by the end of this one, I had to recheck the total mileage several times to really believe that I ran 10.5 miles. The ocean of sweat around the ‘mill might have been a clue.

Some of these are complicated enough to warrant the post-it treatment.
Some of these are complicated enough to warrant the post-it treatment.

The Zero-to-Hero(ine) Progression Run

Warm-up: 1-mile

Workout: After the warm-up mile, drop each mile by 15-seconds afterward for 10 miles. Vary the incline with each mile as your pace picks up: 0, 0, 1%, 2%, 0, 1%, 2%, 0, 1%.

Cool down: as desired.

4 mile modification: Stop increasing the pace at 8 miles.

I started with my first mile @8:45 and ended up with my last mile @6:45. Varying the incline as your pace slowly increases makes this workout interesting and tricks your brain into thinking you are getting a break when your incline goes back down to 0 even though your pace is picking up. I had my sticky note in easy sight to keep it all straight. Double-boredon-buster: I watched a show while running this one.

There you have it, Salties! Four workouts to try on the ‘mill of love! (See, my attitude is changing!)

Share your favorite treadmill workout in the comments or let us know how you do when trying one from the post today!

I'm an elementary P.E. teacher with a long-term, ongoing marathon addiction.The next big goal? Keeping up my BQ streak while aiming for a 3:10! I write about the not-so-glamorous side of running and fitting in serious training with a family while staying sane(ish).

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  1. Thanks so much for this. I ran the 4 mile modification of the 3 x 2 Cut-Down Tempo and it really helped me get through 7 miles without quitting. 🙂