How to work out your tempo pace (and 4 tempo sessions to run once you know it)

You've heard the words 'tempo' and 'lactate-threshold' bandied around and you know they're hard work, but how do you work out what pace will land you in the right zone for these sessions? Read on and pick a way to find out, then put yourself to the test with our four classic tempo training sessions.

FIND YOUR THRESHOLD

Feel

Alberto Salazar described the classic 20-minute tempo-run pace as ‘fun fast’. Layne Anderson, at the University of Iowa, US, says it ‘feels like a 75 per cent effort’. If you are able to hit a pace consistently and feel it was a challenging effort, you are probably running at your threshold. If you can’t sustain the pace, or have too much left in the tank at the end, you were running too fast or too slow.

Race pace

Under race conditions, most runners can run about 50-60 minutes at lactate threshold, says Jack Daniels. For elites, that’s roughly half-marathon pace. For age-group competitors, it might be 10-mile or 15K pace. For others, it might be 12km or 10K pace.

Conconi test

Based on a 1982 paper by a team led by Italian researcher Francesco Conconi, this test uses a heart-rate monitor. At slow-to-moderate paces, heart rate increases linearly with pace. But there comes a point where that no longer holds and your heart rate starts to level off, no matter how fast you run. The point where this occurs, Conconi says, is your lactate threshold.

3,200m time trial

In a 1987 study a team led by University of Virginia researcher Arthur Weltman attempted to correlate 3,200m time-trial paces with lab-measured lactate-turnover paces. The formula is: threshold pace (in metres per minute) equals 509.5 minus 20.82 Å~ 3,200m time in minutes. Their results have an 11:56 time trial over 3,200m (12:00 for 2 miles) translating to a threshold pace of 6:10 per mile.

30-minute time trial

Like the Conconi test, this one is heart-rate based. Triathlon coach Joe Friel argued that to find your lactate-threshold effort level you monitor your heart rate during a 30-minute solo time trial. During the first 10 minutes, your heart rate will speed toward the lactate-threshold plateau. It’s the average heart rate during the final 20 minutes that matters.

The winner? 

In a 2005 study, 27 distance runners and triathletes did the last four of these tests, then compared the results to lactate blood work determined on a treadmill. The conclusion: the best was the 30-minute solo time trial.


TEMPO WORKOUTS

Classic tempo

Warm up for 10 mins, then run 20 mins at the fastest pace you could sustain for an hour. It should feel ‘comfortably hard’. Cool down with 10 mins of easy running. Extend the duration as your fitness improves.

Tempo intervals

After a warm-up do 2 x 10-min fast tempo runs, with a one-min recovery between them. The recovery allows you to maintain the quality throughout.

30-min progression

Warm up for 10 mins, then do a 30-min run. Start off at a pace about one min per mile slower than 10K pace, then speed up by 10-15 secs per mile every five mins so you’re running at or just under 10K pace for the last five mins.

Tempo 60/60

After a 10-min warm-up, run 15 mins at tempo pace, then 15 mins alternating 60 secs hard and 60 secs at tempo pace. By the last one-min effort you should be aiming to get near your maximum heart rate. To reduce the intensity, the alternating part could consist of hard and easy – rather than tempo efforts.