Improve Performance at Any Distance With Tempo Runs

Improve Performance at Any Distance With Tempo Runs


Tempo runs are a valuable part of any training program.  While some types of training runs are more beneficial for longer or shorter races, tempo runs can help you improve performance at any distance, whether it be a 5K race or an ultra-marathon.

What Is A Tempo Run?


Essentially, a tempo run is a faster-paced workout.

But, to help break down the details, think of the run as a sandwich. The warm-up and cool-down phases are the slices of bread, holding together a comfortably hard pace or the meat. By “comfortably hard”, we mean a pace that’s challenging to maintain, but not to the point of where it feels like you’re racing. It’s not an all-out effort, but still, a pace where you’d be more than happy to slow down. An article on Runners World provides more information on this concept.

To determine what a comfortably hard pace means for you, use any of these four methods:

  • Add 30-40 seconds to your 5K pace or 15-20 seconds to your 10K pace
  • Run at 80-90% of your maximum heart rate
  • Train at a level of 8 on a 1-10 scale of perceived running exertion
  • Test your talking – When running, you should be able to string together a couple of words, but you should not be able to comfortably maintain a conversation

Benefits of Tempo Runs


Since the majority of a tempo run is done at a comfortably hard pace, you are continually pushing yourself to run faster. Over time, this leads to an increase in speed.

This gradual boost in pace is achieved because tempo runs progressively increase your lactate threshold or the point at which your body will start to fatigue.  This trains your body to use the byproducts of metabolism more effectively. With a lower threshold and less training, byproducts produced during running can cause muscle fatigue and impede your ability to maintain your run. For a more detailed description of lactate threshold, listen to Podcast 27.

Tempo runs may be difficult, but they’re important.

Not only will these training runs increase your speed, but they’ll also help you to focus on your pace, improve your technique, and build a tougher mental capability.

By employing tempo runs in your training, you are teaching your muscles how to work harder and longer which will only help you to become a faster and more efficient runner.

How Should I Incorporate Tempo Runs?

Tempo runs are important in improving your performance, so make one of your weekly runs a tempo.  Although tempo runs are considered speed work, they do not put as much stress on your body as other training runs. This means that you do not need a prolonged period of recovery after a tempo run. You can even do a tempo run one day and a long run the next.

Tempo runs are great for any training distance, but, when preparing for races of longer distances, you should involve them during the peak of your training.

Tempo Run Examples

Training for a 5K:

  • 15 minute - warm-up
  • 20 min - comfortably hard pace
  • 15 min - cooldown

Half Marathon:

  • 1 mile - warm-up
  • 6 mile - comfortably hard pace
  • 1 mile - cool down

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About the Author Erin Bahadur

Erin is the blogger behind Erin's Inside Job, a site that chronicles her journey through addiction and focuses on maintaining a balance between physical and emotional wellness. She is an avid runner, fitness coach, and currently studying for her personal training certification through NASM.

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