What is tempo running and how do I do it?

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You know what it feels like to run easy and you’re probably also familiar with the burn of going nearly all out. But what about the paces between those two levels? Workouts that target that middle ground – tempo runs – should be part of your weekly routine. These workouts help you understand how different paces feel, putting you more in tune with your abilities (and limits). They also build mental toughness, an asset when you’re aiming to go longer or faster. And they develop capillary beds (which provide oxygen to working muscles) more efficiently than easy or hard runs do. Try these sessions:

LACTATE-THRESHOLD RUN

What is it? A workout at a pace at which your body produces and clears lactate (a metabolic by-product of exercise) at a close-to-equal rate. You start to slow down when it accumulates faster in the blood than your body is able to clear it. This workout trains your body to hold for longer the fastest speed at which your blood lactate levels stay steady.

The workout: Warm up with 20 mins of easy running, then run 20 mins at a pace you feel you could sustain for an hour. You should be able to say only a few words at a time. Cool down with 10 mins of easy running. 

RACE-PACE RUN

What is it? A workout in which you practise the pace you’re hoping to hit during a marathon or half marathon. ‘You’re teaching your body how to efficiently utilise fats and carbohydrates on race day,’ says coach Chris Heuisler.

The workout: Every three weeks, replace your normal long run with one that contains a race-pace segment. If you’re training for a half marathon, warm up for two miles, run at race pace for six to eight miles (depending on where you are in your training), then cool down for a mile. If you’re training for a marathon, warm up for two miles, then work a race-pace block of six to 14 miles into a long run.

PROGRESSION RUN

What is it? A run that starts easy but gradually increases in speed. It teaches you to be mindful of your pacing, which can help you avoid going out too fast (and burning up glycogen stores) in a race, says coach Ryan Warrenburg. A progression session can ensure you don’t become bored – stepping up the pace keeps your body and mind challenged.

The workout: Warm up for 15 mins. Then start a 30-min progression run: speed up by 10-15 secs per mile every six minutes until you’re running at about threshold (or tempo) pace by the last six minutes. Cool down for five to 10 minutes.