Tempo runs are a staple workout in many a runner’s training program and with good reason: they’re very effective at improving fitness, focus, discipline, and grit. They also tend to cause some of the most confusion. In general, a tempo run is defined as maintaining a steady effort for a prolonged period of time. How far and how fast should they be? It depends on who you ask. For ease of creating a common understanding here, we’re going to say your tempo runs should be 20-40 minutes worth of work at your half-marathon pace, i.e. a comfortably uncomfortable effort. Tempo runs tend to intimidate a lot of runners because of their stop-free nature, e.g. 3-8 miles at half-marathon pace is a popular prescription and anything but an easy assignment during a heavy training week. The Broken Tempo Run, which simply breaks a a traditional tempo run into smaller chunks—serves as a nice alternative, especially early in a training block when you’re just not that fit. I also find it to be a good option for runners, newbies and veterans alike, who have a hard time wrapping their heads around long workouts—taking a 30-60 second break every 5-15 minutes (n.b. I’m using 5:00 reps here for simplicity’s sake) is usually enough time to mentally regroup without affecting the intention of the workout.
What: 4-8 x 5:00 @ 1/2 marathon effort (or pace) with 30-60 seconds jogging recovery between reps
Why: To build aerobic fitness, improve focus, discipline, and grit, begin dialing in race pace, and/or get in more time at the right intensity.
Where: Preferably on the roads but can be done effectively on runnable trails too.
When: It depends on the athlete but early on in a training block or any time an athlete is struggling to maintain a consistent effort/pace for tempo runs.