There are many definitions for this type of training. For me, a tempo run is performed at about 85-90% of maximum effort. I do this training in my lunchbreak so there are time constraints. After warming up for the first mile, I increase my pace for the next three. Tempo pace is often described as comfortably fast and the pace should be as consistent as you can manage. To finish, I run a mile (or a few minutes if time doesn’t allow) to warm down.
Although not at race pace this is a hard training session; especially, as it’s ideally run when you’re not training with others. I say this because it should be run at a pace that suits you, on any given day, and the benefits are lost if run too fast or slow. My pace is dictated by how I feel on the day although the effort is always consistent; my times can vary depending on how I feel and what else I’ve done in training, in the preceding days.
As you know, I’m all about finding ways to run 5k faster, and this type of training assists me in two important ways. The first (and probably most important) is that tempo runs help you develop your lactate threshold (LT). Your LT is the point at which lactate acid (a by-product of glucose metabolism) begins to accumulate in muscles.
You are in real trouble once you have an excess of LT in your muscles. Ever been in a race or hard training session when you’ve suffered from an onset of muscle fatigue or burning? I’ve been in the last mile at the parkrun a few times when this has happened to me. Usually the last mile, when I’m gritting my teeth and summoning my last reserves, but ultimately feel like I’m treading water.
Developing your LT enables you to run faster without suffering muscle fatigue. This is great in theory but I need a few more weeks of this to see if it comes to fruition. I’ve recently dropped an interval session and replaced it with a tempo run, so I will let you know.
Tempo runs are also good for mental conditioning. I’ve previously written about the importance of mental toughness when racing. Well, tempo runs are very good for mental toughness: they teach you to maintain pace while suffering discomfort, and if you can do this training alone, you should have no problem in a race environment.
Finally, if 3 miles sounds too arduous, you can always split it up. An alternative is an interval tempo run. A typical example of this is: 1-2 miles warm up, followed by 2 x 10-15 minutes at tempo pace, then 1-2 miles warm down. I’ve never run this session but I would imagine the recovery between the two tempo efforts is best set by the individual.