Tempo Runs – why we do them

It was great to see the big group running this morning. Clearly there are some good New Year’s resolutions coming into play 🙂

Today’s session as per Terry’s Comrades Program was a 20 minute moderate tempo run. I got to wondering if we all really understand why we would do this type of session, so I asked a few runners on the warm-down, if they understood. They didn’t so, I thought I should explain:

What is a Tempo Run? A Tempo Run is used to build your anaerobic threshold, which is the point where you go anaerobic. To explain what this means to us, think of a long distance runner (us) vs. a sprinter (Bolt). A sprinter would run anaerobically for ‘seconds’ where a long distance runner would want to run aerobically for ‘hours’. When we are running for hours, we want to be as efficient as we can (a bit like a car running economically at 5 litres per 100km vs. a bakkie running at 20 litres per 100km – we know which will get further on a 50 litre tank – the car!). So, to get more efficient, we want to build our anaerobic threshold and that is where the tempo run comes in.

So, how do we know how fast to run? That’s gonna be different for each runner, but I personally like to work it out based on feeling. We will do either a hard tempo or a moderate tempo. A hard tempo is when you feel you are running hard, but not full out (say at about 90%)! A moderate tempo is when you feel you are running moderately hard (say 85%). Another way of working how hard you should be running is by the talk test – during a tempo run, it should be possible to say a few words (like “Lets up the pace”), but you should not be able to have a conversation – that should be kept for the Wednesday easy run and the Sunday long runs 🙂

If you really want to work out a pace that is best for you, there are a number of calculators, such as the McMillan Running Calculator or Matt Fitzgerald has developed a Pace Zone Index (PZI) that helps you define and set different training zones and paces that you should be running in these zones. I won’t get into all of them now, but the tempo run should be run in the Pace Zone 6 (Threshold) zone to be effective as a workout. Running tempo runs faster in Zone 7 (Gray Zone 3) is ineffective and running slower in Zone 5 (Gray Zone 2). You really want to keep out of the Gray Zones as much as possible. Otherwise you are effectively wasting a running session.

What will tempo runs do for my racing? Essentially, you will be running more efficiently if you do your tempo runs at the right pace and that means that you will be able to run further at a higher pace – Faster Races!

I hope this clarifies the tempo run.

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” – John Bingham (Running speaker and writer)



2 Responses

  1. Hi Roan, how about an update on half iron man – hope it went well !

  2. Cheers Iano… Nicely put.

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