With a tempo run every week, you can train your body to run faster and for longer. The best part? You can have fun in the process without exhausting yourself or risking injury.

In this post, we’ll talk about the benefits of regular tempo runs and share with you different tempo workouts you can try.

First, let’s talk a bit more about what a tempo run actually is.

What Is a Tempo Run Workout?

A simple tempo run definition goes like this…

A tempo run workout is training at a faster than moderate pace without pushing yourself further.

Put another way, the tempo run pace is meant to be comfortably hard. Neither more nor less.

Steady Run vs. Tempo Run vs. Progression Run

Unlike a progression run, in which you gradually increase your pace every mile, tempo workout running involves maintaining a constant pace.

This pace is more intense than your steady run pace. Steady runs are typically longer than tempo runs. It’s their duration that tires you, not so much your pace, as is the case with tempo runs.

Good to know: According to this study, tempo runs shouldn’t be longer than 10–20 minutes. However, seasoned runners sometimes train at a tempo pace for 30 minutes or longer.

During a tempo workout, you run between 88–100% of your lactate threshold, the pace at which your body makes the maximum amount of lactic acid it can clear away. 

Lactic acid builds up in the muscles when your body is low on oxygen. It makes you feel muscle fatigue, soreness, and cramps.

Benefits of Tempo Run

The whole point of a tempo run workout is to stay within your lactate threshold. The idea is to train your body to become better at removing lactic acid from your muscles and blood.

Are you preparing for an endurance race or simply want to become faster? A tempo run workout can help you get there.

Before we get to tempo run tips and tempo run examples, let’s review the main reasons why you want to add this type of run to your workouts.

1. Run faster for longer

Tempo runs challenge your body to run faster and sustain this pace for longer. It does this by increasing your anaerobic threshold, the point at which more lactic acid builds in your body than you can clear away.

2. Improve aerobic fitness

Doing only steady-state running at a moderate intensity means your aerobic fitness will reach a cap. Adding tempo run workouts to your running plan can keep your aerobic fitness increasing.

Your body will become better at supplying your muscles with enough oxygen. It can also help you preserve a high fitness level that you gain through cross-training.

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3. Get ready for race day

Working your way toward a good race time finish gets easier with tempo run workouts. These workouts will help your body adapt to the demands of a race by taking you out of your comfort zone. Without pushing you to exhaustion or increasing your risk of injury.

4. Become a tougher runner

Tempo runs are challenging. Build them into your training plan, and they will teach you to handle discomfort and manage emotions better when the running gets hard.

How to Include Tempo Run in Your Training Plan?

Start with short tempo run sessions and pay attention to your run pace. You don’t have to run tempo runs every day to see results. Here are some more tempo run tips to remember.

1. Tempo run pace

The right tempo run pace feels comfortably uncomfortable. Your tempo run heart rate should be between 85–90% of your maximum heart rate.

To figure out your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, 220 – 30 = 190 average maximum heartbeats per minute during exercise. Using an HR monitor makes everything easier.

A less scientific way to figure out your tempo run pace is to add 30 seconds per mile to your 5k time.

In the end, you may have to experiment a bit to find out what pace is right for your tempo run.

2. Tempo run plan for beginners

A simple tempo run plan is to start with one tempo run of 10 minutes. You can gradually increase this by one minute every week until you reach a maximum tempo run of 20 minutes.

Important: When you add tempo runs to your training plan, you want to be careful not to push yourself too hard.

3. Tempo run frequency

Tempo training is not something you should do every day. One tempo run workout per week is enough.

You could build a 10-minute or longer tempo run into a shorter steady-pace workout. Or you can devote an entire workout session to tempo running.

For example, you can run 5 tempo intervals at 85–90% max heart rate for 1 kilometer each while giving yourself a minute to recover in between every interval.

Sample Tempo Workouts

Tempo run workouts don’t have to be boring. You can adapt them to your preferred style of training. Here’s how to do a tempo run in different ways.

Bear in mind that some tempo run workouts are more demanding. If you’re at the beginning of your running journey, start with a simple one as a base. You can then gradually progress toward more challenging tempo training plans.

The tempo workout

Let’s start with a simple tempo run example for beginners.

1. Do dynamic stretches to warm up.

2. Run at an easy pace for 1 mile.

3. Then run 3 miles at tempo pace.

4. Cool down with a 1-mile easy run.

Tip: Want to up the challenge? During your tempo run, add 30-second surges every mile or half-mile. Run these sections at a pace that’s at least as fast as your 5k pace.

Sustained tempo runs

Here’s another way to do a tempo run. In this workout, you can run from 10 to 20 minutes at a sustained tempo pace, depending on your fitness level.

1. Warm up by running 2 miles at an easy pace.

2. Do a dynamic warmup including arm and leg circles and swings, hip circles, pigeon stretches, air squats, and burpees.

3. Run for 10, 15, or 20 minutes at a tempo run pace.

4. Cool down with a 1–2-mile easy run.

High five tempo workout

This tempo workout brings more variety to your training plan than a sustained tempo workout. It feels like running intervals – at tempo pace.

Note: Moderate here means running at a pace at which talking doesn’t feel comfortable.

1. Walk for 3 minutes to warm up.

2. Run at a moderate pace for 5 minutes.

3. Run at tempo pace for 5 minutes.

4. Rest for 2 minutes by jogging lightly.

5. Repeat the tempo pace and jog three more times.

6. Run at a moderate pace for another 5 minutes.

7. Cool down with a 3-minute walk.

Break it in two tempo workout

Another variation on the tempo workout breaks down the tempo run into two smaller sections.

1. Warm up with 3 minutes of walking.

2. Run at a moderate intensity for 5 minutes.

3. Run at tempo effort for 10 minutes.

4. Jog easily for 3 minutes.

5. Repeat the tempo pace run and jog.

6. Run at a light-moderate pace for 5 minutes.

7. Cool down with 3 minutes of walking.

The hilly tempo workout

If you like uphill running, this tempo workout variation is for you. It’s fun and can help you build strength and endurance. The idea is to climb up and down inclines at tempo effort without slowing down or speeding up.

1. Walk for 3 minutes to warm up.

2. Run at a light-moderate pace for 10 minutes.

3. Run at tempo pace for 20 minutes.

4. Run at a light-moderate pace for 10 minutes.

5. Cool down with a 3-minute walk.

Tip: You can also do this workout on a treadmill.

Takeaways

Before you try tempo runs, here are some things to remember:

  • Aim to run a tempo run at 85–90% of your maximum heart rate.
  • Don’t integrate more than one tempo run workout into your weekly running plan.
  • Plan ahead your tempo runs with a view of building endurance before race day.
  • Don’t push yourself beyond your tempo run pace, or you may risk injury without seeing results faster.
  • Give your body time to adapt to tempo runs and increase your lactate threshold.
  • Try out different tempo workouts to find the one you like the most.

Tempo runs aren’t only effective – they’re a fun way to vary your workouts. Try them out.

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Written by

Chris Zibutis

Chris Zibutis is the Head Running Coach and founder of Joggo – that one person on earth who loves interval runs.  He holds a degree from Copenhagen Business School and is an avid runner – having participated in numerous marathons and triathlons, Chris brings substantial fitness and running experience to the Joggo team.