Tempo runs are a staple workout for many runners 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. So how far and how fast should your tempo runs 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 15-45 minutes worth of work at your half-marathon pace, i.e. a “comfortably hard” 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 session.
What: 4-8 x 5:00 @ 1/2 marathon effort (or pace) with 30-60 seconds jogging recovery between reps. Note: The duration of the reps can range anywhere from 5-15 minutes, with the accumulated time at intensity totaling 15-45 minutes.
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.
Warmup/Cooldown: Warm up before the workout with 15-30 minutes of easy running followed by a set of drills and 4-6 x 20-second strides (i.e., accelerate for 5 seconds, spend the next 10 seconds at near-top speed, and then gradually decelerate to a jog over the final 5 seconds. Catch your breath for 40-60 seconds and then repeat 3-5 more times). Cool down after the workout with 5-15 minutes of easy running.
Where: Preferably on the roads but can also be done effectively on the treadmill or trails (focusing on time and effort instead of pace), 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.