Tempo Runs | How to Use Leverage For Top Results

tempo runs

Why are tempo runs so vital for success? Welcome to rundreamachieve.com. I am glad you have made it here and hope this post will be of benefit to you.

How do you determine tempo run length?

This was a question I received from one of my readers.

How do you know how far you should go?

What paces to run at and for how long?

Tempo runs help us sustain pace for longer periods of time. In addition, it teaches you to deal with lactic acid more effectively.

Tempo runs are the reason those who run faster times than us are able to sustain pace.

What is a Tempo Run?

Tempo runs are highly aggressive runs that bring about significant benefits.

We run between 85 to 89% of our maximum heart rate running at our anaerobic threshold. The longer you can spend training at this intensity, the better. Of course, it takes between 3 to 4 weeks for the body to adapt to any stress load we place on it. So, be patient with yourself. It will take time to lengthen your tempo run out.

the result of determining proper tempo run length and training is less-acidic muscles so they keep on contracting, letting you run farther and faster.

Carolyn Sharp, a “NASA” exercise physiologist and 2.46 marathoner

How to determine tempo run length is largely based on what distance you are aiming to race at and your goal race pace.

You want to hold your heart rate at or around 85 to 89% of your maximum during a tempo run. This will produce a marvelous physiological adaptation. You will be able to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up.

This is why the Kenyans make it look so easy. They spend a high percentage of their weekly mileage run at higher heart rates.

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.

How Fast is a Tempo Run?

Tempo runs should be conducted about 25 to 30 seconds slower than your 5k race pace. I usually held my heart rate between 167 to 174 during my tempo runs throughout my racing career. I highly advise spending at least 4 weeks running easy before starting a mile to marathon training plan available here.

You definitely need to be patient to get into superior shape and believe in delayed gratification. Delayed gratification means leverage.

It means being patient and allowing the training adaptations to occur. The majority of runners are far too impatient. Results don’t come overnight. It takes approximately 21 days or 3 weeks to adapt to any stress load.

Focus should be placed on extending the time spent running at your tempo effort. That being said, this should be a gradual process.

A workout I do a lot is 10x800m at a designated time with a recovery 200 meter jog in a certain time.

What heart rate do you need to be at during a tempo run?

What I try to do as I get fitter is maintain the same effort during the repetitions. As time passes I lower the amount of rest I give myself between the sets.

What is a Tempo Run Example?

Remember, there are no breaks in a race. So, learning to run at your goal pace with very little rest is great way to drop time in your next race. A tempo run example may be a 2 mile jog, 5 miles@85 to 89% of ones’ max heart rate, 2 mile jog.

I highly recommend investing in a heart rate monitor. I use the Garmin 245. It helps me to stay at the correct heart rate zones. In addition, not run too aggressive during my easy days. Also, to stay at the proper intensity during my tempo runs.

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. In addition, they got fitter over time. No one starts off at 6 to 12 mile tempo runs the first week.

Runners are already very driven people. People who have the fortitude to get into better shape are as well.

Why Are Tempo Runs So Hard?

We are running at a very high heart rate. In addition, higher levels of lactic acid is being built up while running at this effort. So, it is very challenging to sustain tempo run pace. That being said, the body always adapts. You simply need consistent and persistent in your training build up.

2. Be Patient.

If you start at tempo run effort and find the pace is too fast then back off. The goal is to finish the run. Be patient and allow for your fitness to come to you.

Patience is very hard to come by early on.

Regroup, then try again a few days later if you have to cut your run short. The body needs an additional 24-48 hours to recover from a previous run or workout.

Better to be cautious than try to push too hard, too early and get frustrated.

Heart Rate Training

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 anaerobically 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.

Wearing a heart rate monitor you can take the guesswork out of knowing if you are running too fast or too slow.

If you have an easy recovery run planned and you look down at your watch and see you are holding a 165 heart rate, you’re running too fast.

Can You Run a Tempo Run Too Fast?

Yes and that is why I mentioned the heart rate monitor above. Again, you should be focused on doing your tempo runs no faster than 89% of your max heart rate.

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.

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 than miles.

It isn’t as mentally draining thinking in terms of minutes rather than miles.

How Hard Should a Tempo Run Feel?

It should not feel as though you are running all-out. So, a controlled and steady effort is key. It should feel like a comfortable but hard effort.

You are teaching your body’s systems to run economically despite lactic acid building up. The tempo run teaches your body to adapt to handle being uncomfortable.

Furthermore, tempo runs creates a buffer to lactic acid accumulation Thus, causing you obtain the ability to go on at the same pace longer than your competition. Your success is going to come by way of leverage. Doing more with less.

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.

We have limited carbohydrate stores in the body. That being said, extensive fat storage capability. The goal to run faster is to use fat and conserve carbohydrate.

This is huge, especially in the half-marathon to marathon distances (and over). You cannot get this ability via just running easy miles.

Is Tempo Run Faster than 5K Pace

Your tempo run pace should be about 25 to 30 seconds slower than your current 5K personal best pace. Make sure to jog slow during your easy, recovery days. Remember, the real benefits if your hard training will come from within the rest period.

Running easy does a few key things

  1. clears lactic acid from the legs
  2. builds capillary beds’
  3. increases mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) bringing 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.

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.

View our coaching services if you want to work one-on-one. Seeking a new training schedule? Check out our affordable 5K to marathon training plans. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube Channel. I’ll be making new videos each week to help you gain leverage over your training and racing.

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 than if you were aiming to hold marathon pace for a designated running distance.

Closing Thoughts

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.

Lastly, 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 post on tempo runs has been helpful to you. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new content there each week to help runners like you get to the next level in their training and racing

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