Timeless ExercisesIn a continuing collaboration with Scott over at Straight to the Bar, we will be writing about timeless exercises in different disciplines throughout the month of May. This week I would like to talk about another of important type of workout for any competitive runner.

What is a tempo run?
A tempo run, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (see tempo and pace), is “a rate of performance at a steady pace.”

Tempo runs are workouts where you run at a steady pace that is around 70% to 80% of your max aerobic capacity. Tempo runs are just past the point where you begin to build up waste product in your legs at a rapid rate during a run, which is called the lactate-threshold velocity.

How do tempo runs help you?
Tempo runs are thought to have an influence on lactate threshold running speed. By training with tempo runs, your body gets used to moving at a constant rate for a period of time which can help you during a race. Tempo runs are also one of the best ways to train your mind to accept the fact that you are going to run at a steady effort over a specified distance during a race.

How do you integrate tempo runs into your training plan?
The performance benefit of running tempo runs far outstrips running at an easy pace all the time, but does not have quite as much bang for the buck as interval training. The closer to race pace that you can run without over training, the more pronounced the benefits of any specific workout. Mixing up your training is important to prevent injury, and tempo runs are a great way to get some fast leg work in without doing an interval workout or running a race.

As with any speed work, always be sure to add an adequate warm up and cool down before and after a tempo run. You will not be running as fast as you would during an interval workout or a race, but you will be running at a pace quick enough to warrant the extra care. Warming up will help prevent you from hurting yourself, and cooling down will help stretch out your legs after the run and help prevent soreness the next day.

What is the optimum distance for a tempo run?
Tempo runs tend to be middle to long distance days once you have figured in time for a warm up. You will probably want to allot at least a half hour at tempo pace to make the run worthwhile, and may even want to consider extending that depending upon your goal race distances.

I find that mixing my tempo runs with my distance runs has worked out fairly well for me. Rather than running long slow distance, I run at or near my marathon race pace on my long runs to better simulate race conditions and to force my body to make the adaptations that are necesary for me to be successful. I save my easy runs for the shorter runs in between intervals, races and my long runs.