I was asked by a reader of my site how do you determine tempo run length. How do you know how far you should go? What paces to run at and for how long?
Th trick to tempo runs in the first place is teaching the body to deal with lactic acid accumulation during maximal efforts.
It is the reason those who run faster times then us are able to go on when we seem to drift off and slow down.
Tempo runs are obviously very taxing and although I can only speak of my own experience and knowledge on the subject, there are various other resources on the internet on this training method which I encourage you to research.
Carolyn Sharp, a NASA Exercise Physiologist and 2.46 marathoner said it best in Your Perfect Tempo the result of determining proper tempo run length and training is less-acidic muscles (that is, muscles that haven’t reached their new “threshold”), so they keep on contracting, letting you run farther and faster.
How to determine tempo run length is largely based on what distance you are aiming to race at and your goal race pace.
For example, if a runner is wanting to hold an 8 minute per mile pace for a 10 mile race, he for she should aim to run their tempo effort around 80 to 85% of their race pace effort.
Start by doing a shorter tempo run and gradually, over time, extending the length of your effort. Like Rome, racing success doesn’t happen overnight.
The hardest part is holding true to the importance of delayed gratification and allowing your body to the stress you are placing on it.
Lastly, what you want to do in the beginning is not increase the pace of your tempo runs.
Focus should be placed on extending the time spent running at your tempo effort but maintaining the same pace as you started with earlier in your training cycle.
It is the same thing with track sessions. A workout I do a lot is 10x800m at a designated time with a recovery 200m jog in a certain time.
What I try to do as I get fitter is maintain the same effort during the repetitions but lower the amount of rest I give myself between the sets.
Remember, there are no breaks in a race so learning to run at your goal pace with very little rest (once fit and have adapted to that stress level!) is great way to drop time in your next race.
Useful tips to maximize your tempo run efforts.
1. Start gradually. Training adaptations from tempo runs happen over weeks, not after one or two workouts. The body takes approximately 21 days to adapt to any stress that is placed upon it.
You hear about runners doing 6-12 mile ‘tempo runs’. They have to build to that type of fitness and if you tried to do a run at 80-85% effort early on in your training cycle you more then likely will have to end the run short.
Runners are already very driven people. People who have the fortitude to get into better shape are as well.
2. Be Patient. If you start at tempo run effort and find the pace is too fast for you to hold either back off the pace or shut down the run altogether and finish the run at an easy pace but is should be very short in duration early on in your training.
Patience is very hard to come by early on when you are trying to get back to the type of fitness you had months ago or a couple years ago.
Regroup, then try again a few days later if you have to cut your run short. Sometimes the body needs an additional 24-48 hours to recover from a previous run or workout.
Better to error on the cautious side then try to push too hard, too early and get frustrated.
3. Pay attention to your heart. It is tricky early on in a training cycle to know if you are running too fast or too slow.
I have used a heart rate monitor in training since I was a freshman at Malone University. Jack Hazen had his runners use them religiously and I found them to be a great tool, a necessity even when I was doing tempo runs and long runs.
They give you a better gauge of knowing if you are running too anerobically or not. If you are aiming to hit tempo pace and know where you want to hold your heart rate at knowing if you are going too quick can easily be gauged.
You may feel as though you are running easy during the week, but your heart may be telling you otherwise, by wearing a heart rate monitor you can take the guesswork out of the equation.
If you have an easy recovery run planned and you look down at your watch and see you are holding a 165 heart rate, your running too fast.
Great results come from the rest, not the workout itself and more importantly a rested and recovered body will always perform best.
Easy running is usually between 120-40 beats per minute. Runners dropping significant time off their race performances have done so because they have spent longer periods of time running in the heart rate range of where tempo efforts take place.
If your maximal heart rate is, for example, 195, a tempo run would be between 165-70 beats per minute.
4. Consider running shorter tempo run repetitions. It is taunting to think about doing a 6-10 mile tempo run, certainly, earlier on in your training cycle. You start asking mental questions. Can I hold that pace for that long? What if I don’t finish the workout etc.
An easier method would be doing repetitions (early on as your transitioning into more specific training) is to form up workouts formed in minutes rather then miles.
It isn’t as mentally draining thinking in terms of minutes rather then miles. Remember, by the inch its a cinch, by the yard it is hard…at least early on it is.
If you have layed a strong mileage base and want to start sprinkling tempo runs into your training try sessions like 5x2minutes at tempo run effort or 2×5 minute effort at tempo pace.
What occurs in the body from doing tempo runs?
You are teaching your body’s systems to run economically (more physiologically effective) despite the fact that your working muscles are building lactic acid, by training at tempo pace you teach your body not to shut down when you need it to react most, in the race.
Tempo running creates a buffer to lactic acid accumulation thus causing you obtain the ability to go on at the same pace whereas others, who have not trained to such an anaerobic extent, would likely slow.
One of the greatest things about running at tempo efforts is the fact that you teach your body to utilize fat as its main fuel source and not carbohydrate.
What do I mean?
We have limited carbohydrate stores in the body but extensive fat storage, running at faster paces teaches the body to utilize fat, rather then carbohydrate, when racing and you will conserve carbohydrates and have them to call upon in the latter stages of your race.
This is huge, especially in the half-marathon to marathon distances (and over). You cannot get this ability via just running easy miles.
Running easy is still vital in that recovery running allows the body to adapt to the hard sessions you have put in, clears lactic acid from the legs, builds capillary beds and increases mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) brining more oxygen delivery to your working muscles.
So..how is tempo run length determined. Well, it is going to be based on just how fit you are. It is a gradual process.
To race faster you have to gradually extend the amount of time you spend at tempo effort. If you have put in a strong foundation of easy mileage and have started doing light, but harder, training sessions such as repeat miles, hill reps, implementing tempo training into your training is vital for racing success down the road.
There is a close proximity between lactate threshold training ( the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate within the body) and tempo training (which can be at or slightly above LT effort.
For example, when you are trying handle 10K race pace, you are going to be dealing with a much more painful, higher lactic acid build up then if you were aiming to hold marathon pace for a designated running distance.
We all know 10K pace is going to be faster then our marathon race pace so even though lactate threshold and tempo runs are different in the intensity at which they are run at, the physiological adaptations they bring to the body are similar.
They both teach you to deal with pain, discomfort and most importantly how to cope with that burn you feel when racing against someone else.
Running at faster paces for longer period of time will help teach your body to learn to call upon fat stores, rather the carbohydrates, as its main fuel usage while racing.
The less carbohydrates you have to use, the better because you can use them in the later stages of a longer race to pick up the pace when others are slowing.
I hope this was helpful. Please send me your feedback as to what areas of training you are would like written about. Any area I can assist you with.