If you’ve ever trained for a foot race, chances are you’ve used some sort of training guide. And chances are that guide has had certain days assigned as “tempo run” days. It’s possible that this term just gets overlooked, and runners never fully learn about tempo running.
For experienced and new runners alike, the tempo run assignment can be a confusing thing. What does it mean to run a tempo run? Why do I have to do it? Is there really any benefit in doing it? These are all valid questions that even I, a seasoned runner, ask. Instead of asking the questions out into the void, or spending hours weeding through all the opinions online, I went to a trusted source: a running coach.
Scott Hill is a talented runner who coaches for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training organization. He’s coached many runners through marathons and ultra marathons along with being a phenomenal endurance racer himself.
Hill defines tempo running differently for each class of runner. “For some of the more experienced runners, I tell them that this is about what they could expect to maintain for an hour, but not much more.” Hill explained that this type of running pace would be expected for an experienced runner’s 10K distance or perhaps even a half marathon.
“I tell newer runners that a tempo run is ‘comfortably hard’ or ‘can’t engage in conversation, but still can breathe.’”
So why should runner’s push themselves like this on a run? Hill explained that the studies say tempo running helps increase lactate thresholds. While the studies may be true, Hill says, “I tell most people that it is ideal for training for a marathon or half marathon, where your heart rate steadily climbs over the course of the event until your body reaches a point of no return, or ‘red lining.’” According to Hill, doing these exercises will help the runner understand how the body reacts when it reaches that “red line” level and helps increase the range in where the body hits that point.
So if the tough challenge of tempo training is worth the effort, how is one supposed to do it? Hill believes this answer depends on what the runner is training for. “Most of the runners in a half-marathon or marathon distance might benefit from 30-40 minutes of tempo running.” That is running 30-40 minutes at the one’s race pace or that “comfortably hard” pace. Hill explains that the longer the race distance, the more minutes the runner may want to add to their tempo workout. He again stressed how important is it not to max out on these workouts, or hit that “red line.” “This again gets back to why you should do tempo runs- the ability to push that upper limit without actually crossing it.”
When running becomes more than just a jaunt through the neighborhood to get some fresh air, it can get a little technical and little more difficult. But once the runner sees the benefits of training techniques like tempo running, they’ll never glance over that “tempo run” day on their guide again. Great coaches like Scott Hill wouldn’t teach the technique if it wasn’t worth all the sweat and effort.