What is tempo running and how do I do it?
Get to grips with tempo running
Find out from Olympian Scott Overall how using tempo running in training can help you run faster in races and potentially help you secure some new personal bests.
One of the most important aspects of my training is what is known as 'tempo running' - the idea is to run at a pace for an extended period of time that is quicker than your normal running speed, but not so quick that it is your race pace. These are great when training for a marathon, but they also have a place in training programs for the shorter distances such as the 5km.
The idea behind tempo running is to is to improve your lactic threshold, the point at which your body starts producing lactic acid that is too much for you to maintain the current pace. Tempo running can also be known as an LT (lactic threshold) run. The distance that you tempo at is dependent on what your race distance is.
If you are only running up to 5km race distance than I would say you should look to tempo between 3-6 miles, this is over distance but will work on your strength - a major component of the 5km. If you are racing a 10km then maybe you should look to be getting up to about 8-10 miles.
If you are running at a pace that is your lactic threshold it will mean you will get very good and more efficient at that pace, it will also mean that after a while the pace that you need to run to be at your LT pace will be faster. Training this system will improve your lactic tolerance and therefore allow you to run quicker in races. The difficulty you will find is knowing exactly what pace to run at if you have never done a tempo before.
The most scientific way to do this is to get some testing done in the lab. This will involve you running on a treadmill with a heart rate monitor attached at certain speeds, every 3 minutes or so blood is taken from your ear to measure the amount of lactic your body is producing. All this information is then plotted on a graph known as a lactic curve. From the curve you'll be able to see exactly what speed and what HR zone you need to run in to get the LT pace.
There are certain watches that you can buy that have programs on them that will give you a short fitness test and this is another way to get your LT pace. Obviously it is not as accurate but it is a good place to start, without spending the money to get the testing done. If those two options don't appeal to you then the best thing to do is go from your personal best performances over 5km and 10km. Your tempo pace should be about 75 per cent of your race pace.
How to monitor your tempo run
A coach once told me that you should always finish a tempo knowing that you could run at least another mile at the pace you were running, if you are not able to do this then perhaps you were running quicker than tempo. You definitely don't want to be on your back following a tempo session.
I would strongly recommend getting a GPS for when you are doing your tempos. This will allow you to know exactly how far and most importantly how fast you are running. Tempo runs can be for a period of time, such as 30 minutes, or a set distance like 8 miles. Some days your tempo runs will feel so easy that you'll find yourself running faster than you should be doing. It is important that you run at the pace and duration agreed before you start. You should always be able to hold a short conversation while you are running during a tempo, again if you are unable to do this then maybe you are running quicker than tempo pace.
Tempo runs are just one part of a training schedule, combine these with a faster 'speed' session and also some steady runs around the sessions and you'll soon see improvements in your races.
Written by Scott Overall
Scott is a British long distance athlete who represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics. His marathon PB is currently 2:10:55.