What Is a Tempo Run?

A female jogging in the bank near the river in Kyoto, Japan.Women in early 20s
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Tempo runs are an excellent way for runners to work on building their speed and strength. They are runs that are done at a steady effort level, usually just a little slower than your 10K race pace.

Benefits of Tempo Runs

Tempo runs help you develop your anaerobic or lactate threshold (LT), which is critical for running faster. Your LT is the point at which lactic acid (a by-product of glucose metabolization) begins to accumulate in muscles.

An accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles leads to the fatigue and soreness that runners experience when running hard. If you can increase your LT by doing tempo runs, you can reduce the accumulation of lactic acid and run faster without suffering muscle fatigue.

Tempo runs are also helpful for developing the mental toughness and stamina needed for racing, since you'll have practice running at a pace that's a little outside of your comfort zone.

How to Do Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are an important part of any training program, especially if you're hoping to improve your race times. To get started with tempo runs, start your run with 5 to 10 minutes of easy running to warm up, then continue with 15 to 20 minutes of running about 10 seconds slower than your 10K pace.  If you're running on a treadmill, it's easy to plug in your pace into the machine. If you're running outside, you need a GPS timing device such as a Garmin to track your pace.

If you're not sure what your 10K pace is or you can't track your pace, run at a pace that feels "comfortably hard." You can also use your breathing as your guide. For an easy-paced runs, most runners take three footstrikes while breathing in and two footstrikes while breathing out. For tempo runs, you should be at two footstrikes while breathing in and one footstrike while breathing out.

If you're breathing faster than that, your pace is too fast.

Tempo runs can be mentally challenging, so try some of these tips for digging deeper to get through. Tell yourself that getting through your tempo runs will help make you a stronger, faster runner.

Finish with 5 to 10 minutes of cooling down. You can also do some stretching or yoga moves after your run.

Even a weekly 15 to 20-minute tempo pace run is enough to get benefits from it, but some more advanced runners will do longer weekly tempo runs of 40 minutes or more.

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