Tempo running is one of the most simple and straight-forward forms of speed work you can do. Unlike track-based speed work, there are no repetitions to keep track of or times to remember. It’s simply a sustained period of faster running. A tempo run can be most easily described as a run with one or more periods being run at a ‘comfortably hard’ pace. The aim of adding a regular tempo run to your weekly program is to allow your body to become more comfortable running at an increased speed compared with that of your longer more steady runs in the week. You should be trying to run at a level of intensity that feels like it scores a seven or eight out of ten (ten being your maximum speed).

What are the benefits?

The benefits of adding a regular tempo run to your program include improvements in running efficiency, particularly at increased speeds. Running for sustained periods close to your limit, will enable you to run faster before you reach this limit. Even if you’re training for a long race, such as a marathon, where the majority of your weekly volume will be slow and steady, tempo running will enable you to increase the pace at which you feel you can maintain a steady run. Remember, there is only one way to run faster in your race, and that’s to practise running faster in training! Often those who train for a marathon say they feel ‘one-paced’. This is due to the high volume of training miles that are completed at a slow, steady pace. The body adapts to moving slowly! Remind your body how to run fast on a regular basis by adding a tempo run. That way you will avoid the marathon runner’s trap of becoming a one-paced runner.

How often should you do a tempo session?

Due to the increased pace and intensity of tempo runs, especially compared with running at a more sustainable pace, you may feel like you need a little longer to recover after such a session. It’s sufficient to plan only one tempo run into your weekly running schedule. It’s the consistency of adding a tempo run to your training week over six to ten weeks that will provide benefits, rather than doing lots of tempo runs over a short period. It doesn’t really matter whether you choose to do your tempo session indoors on a treadmill or outdoors. However, I usually recommend running outside where possible. Importantly though, you should do whatever you are comfortable with.

Your Tempo Run

Want to know how to plan a tempo run? Look no further…

The following two examples are tempo sessions you can easily perform in 30 to 40 minutes. Remember, to find your ‘tempo pace’, you should be looking for a feeling of seven to eight out of ten, with ten being your maximum pace. It should feel similar to your 10km race pace.

Beginner’s plan

5 minutes easy running/jogging warm-up

5 minutes easy followed by 5 minutes at tempo pace (x 2)

5 minutes easy running/jogging cool down

Intermediate plan

10 minutes easy running/jogging warm-up

20 minutes at tempo pace

10 minutes easy running/jogging cool down

Words by James Dunne