It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when looking for different running workouts. What starts out as a quest to simply discover how to get faster can quickly turn into a numbers game – finding workouts that require you to calculate various percentages, heart rates, paces and oddly structured intervals.
Which is why a tempo run workout feels so refreshing.
While it’s certainly possible to get down to the nitty gritty details when planning your training, doing so usually sounds less than ideal for most runners. We simply want to incorporate a few speed sessions that will help us shoot for a brand new PR.
Luckily, unlike many other running workouts, a tempo run doesn’t require any interval programming, fancy pace calculations or heart rate monitoring to complete successfully.
So what is a tempo run?
Put simply, a tempo run is a running workout with multiple miles or intervals completed at a pace requiring about 90% effort. This pace is challenging throughout the workout, yet maintainable for the designated miles.
Tempo runs challenge the cardiovascular system, muscles and brain as they push your body almost to its limits.
The goal of a tempo run is to adjust both mentally and physically to the challenge of running at a difficult pace for a longer period of time.
Tempo runs can be used effectively in any type of training – whether you are training for anything from a 5k to a marathon.
Generally, tempo runs of 2 miles are sufficient during 5k training, while anywhere from 5-8 tempo miles should be incorporated during marathon training.
How fast should you run a tempo run?
The golden question: how fast is a tempo pace?
Determining your tempo pace involves taking into account the distance for which you are training, any previous PRs, your current fitness level and the goal you are working towards.
A common thought amongst runners is that tempo pace should have you running at about 90% maximum heart rate. However, without continuous heart rate monitoring, using this method to determine tempo pace can lead to quite a bit of confusion and frustration.
Another way to come up with your tempo pace is to knock off about 25-30 seconds from your current 5k pace. If you don’t know your 5k pace, you can complete a practice race of your own, running 3 miles at race-pace with all-out effort. Find your average pace for these 3 miles and slow it down by about 30 seconds per mile for a tempo run.
In general, tempo runs should be completed at a pace that is challenging throughout the entire workout, but still maintainable. If you’re just getting started with speed workouts, try completing your first tempo workout at your previous “fastest mile” pace. If it feels pretty manageable, try increasing your pace by about 10-20 second per mile for the next tempo workout.
Tempo run workouts are an effective tool for any runner – whether you’re simply trying to improve your fitness or training for a massive PR at your next race.
4 Tempo Run Workouts to Increase Speed
Classic Tempo Run
This type of tempo run workout is one of the most common running workouts. A classic tempo run workout is a great way to incorporate speed into your weekly training plan. Classic tempo runs are simple, don’t require any pre-programming of the watch, and still incredibly effective at helping increase speed and endurance.
To complete a classic tempo run, you’ll want to start with a 15 minute warm up at an easy pace. After your warm up, complete 1-6 miles at tempo pace. To wrap things up, finish with a 15 minute cool down at an easy pace.
When you’re just starting out, begin with no more than a mile at tempo pace. Focus on running a pace that feels challenging the entire time. If you are running outdoors, you’ll want to monitor your pace closely to ensure that you never slow down.
Once your body gets used to regular speed work, continue to increase your tempo distance each week. When training for a 5k, a 2 mile tempo run peak is sufficient. However, if you’re training for a longer distance race, such as a half marathon or marathon, you’ll want to work your way up to 4-8 miles at tempo pace.
Race Pace Tempo Run
This type of tempo run workout is perfect for any runner who is training for a specific PR or time goal at an upcoming race. If you’re hoping to finish a race in a certain amount of time, divide your finish time by the number of miles to come up with your “goal race pace” on race day.
For a race pace tempo run, you’ll follow the same structure as the classic tempo run (completing a 15 minute warm up and cool down), but aim to complete each tempo mile at race pace.
This tempo run workout is an excellent confidence booster for any runner during training. Not only does it allow us time to practice running our race day pace, but it gives us the confidence to believe that we are capable of hitting our goals (or helps us evaluate what we need to improve to get there).
Throwing in regular race pace tempo run workouts is a great way to give you confidence to hit your goals on race day.
Tempo Run Intervals
This tempo run workout is similar in structure to many other running workouts you may find in a training plan. Tempo run intervals vary slightly from the classic tempo run, but still have the same idea in mind.
As always, begin your tempo run workout with a 15 minute warm up. Next, complete a designated interval at tempo pace – anything from 5 minutes to 1 mile or more at tempo pace. After you complete your tempo interval, run a brief recovery at an easy pace (just a simple 1-5 minute recovery will do). Continue to alternate between tempo pace and recovery pace until your intervals are complete, and finish with a 15 minute cool down.
Tempo run intervals are a great way to get started with tempo run workouts for the first time. These interval workouts are perfect for beginners who are easing their way into speed workouts and faster running.
As your fitness improves, you’ll be able to increase the distance of your tempo interval. For example, when training for a marathon, you might complete a tempo run interval workout with three different 2-mile tempo intervals to finish with 6 total miles at tempo. There is truly no right or wrong way to structure this workout.
Negative Split Tempo
If you’re planning to use tempo run workouts to help you prepare for a race, there is no better version than a negative split tempo run. This type of tempo run workout is challenging for both the body and mind, helping to keep you at your peak for race day.
A negative split tempo also begins with a 15 minute warm up. After your warm up, transition to your tempo miles at your beginning tempo pace. If your pace has improved throughout the course of your training, start out with the pace you maintained in the very beginning of training.
After a certain amount of time or distance, slightly increase your tempo pace. Most runners choose to increase pace every mile, as those are the splits that you watch will record. You don’t need to increase your pace any more than 5-10 seconds per mile, as long as your overall pace continues to get slightly faster with each split.
The longer the tempo portion of your run, the more gradually you’ll want to increase your pace. After your tempo miles are complete, finish the workout with a 15 minute cool down. The goal of this workout is to finish with each tempo mile getting slightly faster in pace.
This type of tempo run workout is great practice for race day as it forces you to start slightly slower. While it’s tempting to start out by giving it your all in a race, it often leaves runners feeling burnt out or low on energy near the end when things really get challenging. This tempo workout is perfect for practicing holding back in the beginning and gradually increasing speed.
Tempo run workouts are an excellent way to incorporate speed training into any running plan. Whether you’re just starting out for the first time or training for a massive PR, tempo runs are the perfect addition to any workout routine.
The simplicity of a tempo run combined with its incredible effectiveness makes it hard to resist. Try out a few tempo run workouts this training season and you might be surprised with the progress you make!
More running workout ideas:
- 3 Running Workouts to Increase Speed
- Fartlek Training: Speed Workout Ideas for Runners
- 2 Running Ladder Workout Ideas to Improve Speed