Tempo Train to a Personal Record!

You may be a veteran runner or you may be a novice. Regardless of your background, you may have heard of tempo runs or threshold training. Tempo runs are a common and straightforward training tool that all runners should incorporate into their training plans!

What is the purpose of a tempo run?

Tempo runs are a form of training that help runners tolerate higher intensities of running through increasing their own lactate threshold. They are great workouts to increase confidence, stamina, and overtime will decrease your sustainable running pace.

What’s lactate and what is the “lactate threshold”?

Lactate is a by-product of one of our energy systems. When we increase energy expenditure, such as when we run faster, we produce more and more lactate. The excess lactate is cleared and metabolized. But as we continue to increase the intensity, we will inevitably reach a point where lactate clearance can’t keep up with production. This intensity is called the lactate threshold and above the threshold, fatigue inevitably sets in!  See figure below for a visualization.

Lactate Threshold

Fig. 1 Lactate threshold occurring at 8 mph.

What’s the importance of the “lactate threshold?”

 Remember the threshold is the point where lactate starts to accumulate. The greater our fitness, the higher our threshold; therefore, we can run at a faster pace before fatiguing. Improving our threshold is considered numero uno to improve endurance so if you want to improve your performance, you must increase your lactate threshold.

Enough physiological mumbo jumbo! How do I improve my threshold?

 The most traditional and commonly accepted way to improve threshold is to train right at or above the lactate threshold. A common method is the aforementioned tempo run. The tempo run should be run at this threshold intensity.

Tempo runs are typically around 20 minutes in length and at a comfortably hard effort that could be maintained in a race situation for 50-60 minutes. If you ever raced a distance that took you around 60 minutes, that is your threshold pace. It’s the pace where you no longer can have a conversation with your training buddy, but you could give an answer in a short, 2 or 3 words. Also, pick a route relatively flat with good footing to really get into your rhythm. Tempo runs are typically run once a week with an easy day before and after.

Tempo workouts

Tempos will help out the 5k runners to a marathon. See below for some common workouts:

20 minute continuous tempo 

-The most standard tempo. Work up from 10 minutes to 20 or try the cruise interval type below to workup to a sustained 20 min tempo.

4 – 8 x 5 minutes at tempo pace with 1-2 minute recovery

– Beginners: start at 4 and work up to 6 then try a solid 20 minute tempo

– Advanced runners: start at 6 and work your way up to 8 or more to get more time at threshold pace

– These shorter intervals at tempo pace are sometimes referred to cruise intervals

2-3 x 20 minute tempo

– Great marathon or half marathon tempo workout

Although the workouts above will work just fine for improving your threshold – runners who have plateaued or looking for a change in their typical threshold work will want to read this article describing elite running coach Renato Canova’s threshold philosophy. His workouts include intervals above threshold (sometimes near or faster than race pace) and then below threshold. These workouts are advanced and very taxing so they should be tried by more experienced runners with a few years of running under the belt. Otherwise you may find yourself quickly overtrained!


Do you train with tempos? We’d like to hear your experiences and questions with this type of workout in the comments!

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