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What Is A Tempo Run for Beginners?

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man and woman doing a tempo run

A tempo run is a type of run meant to help build speed by increasing your lactate threshold (LT) which will allow you to push harder and run faster. If you still need more information, don’t worry! We have a whole article outlining what a tempo run for beginners is, why it’s important, and how you can implement them to help yourself run faster, farther, and better.

What Is Considered a Tempo Run?

A tempo run is a workout for building speed. You can add a tempo run to your weekly routine along with fartleks and interval workouts to keep things mixed up, although it is important to understand that the three kinds of workouts serve different purposes.

What makes a tempo run for beginners different is that it is a sustained effort that builds up your body’s ability to run at higher speeds for longer periods of time. It’s a great addition to your routine whether you are training for a 5K or a marathon.

Beginner Tempo Runs Should Be Challenging but Comfortable

In a tempo run, you want to be fast, but you don’t want to be doing a sprint. Find a pace that you can maintain for at least 20 minutes, and preferably for 45 minutes to an hour. If walking comfortably is a 1 on your comfort scale and trying to beat your time in a 100-meter dash is a 10, aim for 6 to 8 during your tempo run.

A tempo run isn’t something you would want to do for hours on end, but it won’t give you muscle cramps in 10 minutes, either.

Benefits of a Tempo Run for Beginners

temp run on a track

Why would a beginner runner want to include tempo runs in their weekly routine? There are two reasons: physical and psychological.

One reason is physical: You want to be able to sustain speed longer. Practice builds efficiency.  As you train your body to hold a quicker pace, you will get better at it.

Another reason is psychological: Do you ever get into arguments with yourself about whether you need to take a walk break or stop your run altogether even though you don’t really feel tired yet? 

The root of this psychological conflict is also physical. Your body wants to conserve energy and avoid injury. The last thing you want on race day is to hear that nagging little voice telling you to slow down or take a break. Tempo running builds mental toughness.

A third reason tempo runs are a great addition to any runner’s weekly routine is physiological. Tempo runs help you increase your lactate threshold. 

Your lactate threshold is the maximum speed at which you can run while your muscles still clear lactic acid. The more time you spend on tempo runs, the longer you will be able to go before you feel that burn in your muscles.

Tempo runs train your body and your mind to sustain the speed you need to win your race. You will have practiced the pace that is right for you, and you will know how long you can run at your threshold pace, your optimum speed for the length of your course.

How Do I Do a Tempo Run?

Now you know the benefits of tempo running. It’s time to tell you how to do one.,

The best time to add tempo runs to your weekly run schedule is after you have been training for at least six months. It is not a good idea to do a tempo run as your first run after a long hiatus from regular training. If you’re still struggling to run without stopping to walk, this may be too advanced for you.

Even if you train several times a week, it is best to fit your tempo run into the middle of your training schedule, not the first day after a few days off. You should have practiced your breathing so you don’t get so tired when you run.

You can build up your breathing capacity passively by wearing a compression tank top, available for men or women.

You should warm up for a few miles—or at least warm up for 5-10 minutes before you start your tempo run.

The right intensity for your tempo run depends on the race you are planning to run. If you are getting ready for a marathon or a half-marathon, it’s OK to do your tempo run at a 6 or a 7 out of 10 for maximum effort. If you are planning to run a 5K or a 10K, you should shoot for a 7 or 8 effort for your tempo run.

Finding the Right Frequency for Your Tempo Runs

Tempo running isn’t something you want to do every day. Tempo runs, fartleks, and interval training do not fit into the “More is better” category. You will get your best results by doing tempo running once a week, with one other workout focusing on speed, such as interval training, also once a week.

If you are running to improve your cardiovascular health, high-intensity interval training does you more good than tempo runs, exercise physiologists report. But if you are running to get back into shape, a mixture of all three kinds of intensity training is best.

What Is a Tempo Run Example?

Ready to put your knowledge into practice? Great! Here is a sample tempo run workout.

Sample Tempo Run Workout

  • Warm up with a mile or two of jogging.
  • Stop and do a dynamic warm up. For instance, you might do 20 arm circles, with each arm. Do 20 arm swings. Follow up with 20 leg swings, 20 hip circles clockwise and counterclockwise, 10 air squats, 10 burpees, 10 bootstrappers, and 5 rounds of squat walking.
  • Then run 5 minutes at an intensity of 7 or 8 on your 10-point scale. Run at the pace you want to keep up in your race.
  • After 5 minutes at this speed, jog for 1 or 2 minutes.
  • Repeat your tempo run for another five minutes, then jog some more.
  • After your sixth 5-minute session, jog for another mile or two to cool down.

If you are preparing for a half-marathon or a marathon, run 30 minutes at tempo without breaks.

When you get home from your tempo run, put on some compression socks. Compression socks help you recover faster and recover better.

Research: A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that wearing compression socks for 48 hours after a tempo run improved speed by 2.6 percent two weeks later. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Tempo Runs

Do tempo runs increase your VO2 max?

Your VO2 max is the maximum volume of oxygen (in milliliters) you can consume per minute per kilogram of body weight at your maximum performance. It’s a measure of how much energy your body can produce when you are working out as hard as you can.

Running at about 80 percent of your VO2 max has some unique effects on the physiology of your blood vessels. As your heart works harder, it strains the capacity of your arteries to transport oxygenated blood. If this stress continues for about 20 minutes or longer, the intima, the lining of the arteries, sends out hormonal signals that tell surrounding tissues you need new “pipes” for blood flow.

Tempo training encourages the growth of collateral blood vessels that give you greater and greater VO2 max when you run and throughout the rest of your life, lowering blood pressure, improving circulation.

How can I know I am running at 80 percent of VO2 max?

Some runner’s watches like the Garmin Forerunner 45S give you an instant readout of how close you are to your VO2 max.

What is the difference between a tempo run and a fartlek?

We’ve laid out what a temp run is above, but a fartlek is a Swedish word for “playing with speed” that is similar to interval training. A tempo run is a more consistent increased tempo and pace, while a fartlek is varying speed and intensity for an extended time over the run.

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About the author

Jasper loves to write about fitness, running, and anything else that gets him moving outdoors. He's an avid hiker, backpacker, and climber who loves to stay fit so he can make sure he's healthy enough to enjoy his favorite hobbies. He also spends time writing about his true passions in life.