How to Do a Tempo Run and Get Faster
By Marnie Kunz
Whether you’re training for the NYC Marathon or want to get faster for your next 5K race, tempo runs are your best friend. These anaerobic threshold — or lactate threshold — runs improve your oxygen efficiency and train your body to run faster for prolonged periods (such as a race). Many running experts believe that tempo runs are the single most important workout you can do to improve your speed for any race distance.
Before you dive into tempo runs, we’ll do a brief overview:
What Is A Tempo Run?
A tempo run is a speed workout you do at a sustained pace/effort level. Unlike intervals, you will keep a steady pace for your tempo run. Usually tempo runs are 20 to 40 minutes (depending on the race distance you’re training for), and they’re at a pace you could sustain for 60 minutes in a race.
How Do I Do a Tempo Run?
To do a tempo run, you will run at a pace about 25 to 30 seconds per mile slower than your current 5K race pace. Your run should feel “comfortably hard,” at about 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you are just starting out, do a warm up and then a tempo run for 20 minutes, followed by a cool down. You can repeat weekly or twice a week for your speed workouts.
How Far Should I Run?
if your goal is general fitness or a 5K race, run 20 minutes, or two to three miles, for your tempo run. If you’re training for longer distance races, do longer tempo runs during your peak training weeks: 4 to 6 miles for 10K race training, 6 to 8 miles for half marathon training, and 8 to 10 miles for marathon training.
What Are the Benefits of Tempo Runs?
Tempo run workouts improve your speed and endurance and train your body to perform when fatigued. Because tempo runs are done at a sustained effort and relatively fast, they help build your fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles. Tempo runs also improve your body’s oxygen efficiency, and they will really help come race day when you are struggling at the middle or end of a race. Your body will be familiar with the fatigue and speed training from tempo runs, and you’ll find you’re able to maintain your pace better during the race.
How Often Should I Do a Tempo Run Workout?
If speed is a big priority for you and you want to lower your race times, do two speed workouts a week, with at least one being a tempo run. You can do intervals for your other speed training day, especially if you are training for a shorter race such as a mile or 5K. If you want to maintain your fitness level and also get a little faster, one speed workout a week is sufficient.
If you’re training for a 5K race, I recommend one 20-minute tempo run a week and one interval workout. If you are a long distance runner such as a marathoner or half marathon runner, tempo runs will be one of the most important workouts to really improve your race times and will help you more than intervals.
Have you tried tempo workouts? What is your favorite speed workout? Comment below.
Marnie Kunz is a RRCA-certified running coach and the creator of Runstreet Art Runs, which bring together communities through running and street art. She is a Brooklyn resident, running coach and writer. She enjoys traveling, art, and eating messily. You can follow her running and events at @Runstreet Instagram and Runstreet Facebook.