Tempo training is the best way to get faster and stronger, no matter where you are in the pack.
Its often asked, if you could do onely one hard workout for the rest of your life, what would it be? First of all, that's an unfair question. It's like asking, if you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? The reality is, there are lots of workouts runners can-and should- do regularly. Training variety improves your fitness, staves off injuries, and keeps motivation high. But if pressed to name the one workout that has the greatest impace on racing performance at any distance, with a clear conscience we can answer: The Tempo Run.
Tempo Runs will make you a stronger miler, a faster 5K runner, a more powerful 10K runner, and a less fatigued marathoner. How can one workout benefit such a wide range of race distances? Simply put, Tempo runs teach your body to run faster before fatiguing.
Studies indicate that the best predictor of distance-running performance is your lactate threshold, which is the speed you are able to run before lactic acid begins to accumulate in the blood. By regularly including tempo runs in your training schedule, you will increase the speed that you can run before lactic acid begins to slow you down. To use a car analogy, tempo runs will allow your engine to rev faster without red-lining. Before tempo training you may have red-lined at an 8-minute-per-mile pace. After a few months of tempo runs, you won't redline until you reach a 7:30-per mile pace.
Regular tempo run workouts are a key component of successful distance running. Quality all -weather tracks are nearly as rare as white Christmas in the east African countries of Kenya and Ethiopia. Yet, the undulating dirt roads that cover these countries are the perfect setting for tempo training. Frequent tempo runs at altitude are one of the keys to the east Africans' distance-running dominance.
Once you determin your tempo run pace you can run it in a variety of workouts. Here are three of the best options designed for the beginning, intermediate, and advanced runners, although runners of all levels can adapt any of these workouts and alternate for training variety.
Three ways to find your Tempo Pace
1. Perceived Effort: In general, your perceived effort is how hard you feel you're working when you're running. For a tempo run, your perceived effort should be "Comfortably Hard" You are running fast enough so that you know you're working hard, but if you had to, you could keep up the pace for an hour.
2. Heart Rate: At 85-90% of your maxium heart rate. To calculate your numbers, Take 205 - half your age - resting heart rate X .85 + resting heart rate. So if you are 40 with a resting hear rate of 50, then you be crunching 205-20-50= 135 x .85= 115 +50 which would be 165.
3. Racing Pace: You can base your tempo pace on either your 10K or your 5K race pace. Shoot for about 20 seconds per mile slower than 10K pace or 30 seconds per mile slower than 5K pace.
Temp run 1000's: As the name indicates, this workout consists of 1,000 meter repeats done at temp pace with 60 seconds of recovery between them.
Start with six 1,000 meter repeats and add one per week until you can run 8-10 comfortably. Don't exceed 12 repeats unless you plan on winning the NYC Marathon. And don't be put off by the fact that this workout is designed to be on the track. It's still more of a controlled tempo run than a speedy interval session because of the pace.
This is a good tempo workout for inexperienced runners who might have a hard time running evenly for a 5-6 mile traditional tempo run. Or run tempo 1000's every 2 to 3 weeks in place of a more standard tempo run to add variety to your tempo training.
Nothing fancy here. Just effective. After a 2-mile warmup and some strides to loosen up your legs, just get out there an roll at tempo pace. Workout can be anywhere from 20-35 minutes. Avoid the temptation to check your watch too soon. Be patient and get into a rhythm before you assess your pace. Start with tempo runs that are at least 2 miles and add a half-mile every 2 weeks until you hit 4 miles. Faster runners can extend tempo runs beyond 4 miles by taking a jog/walk mini break of 30-45 seconds in the middle of the run and extend to 5-6 miles. This way you can extend your workout the enormity of the distance psyching you out. So instead of a 5 mile tempo, think of it as 2 X 2.5 miles. As you advance in your training you can eliminate the break and you're running 5 miles of pure tempo.
Double tempo run: In this workout, you give yourself a substantial recovery period of 5 to 7 minutes sandwiched between two tempe-paced runs. Once again, warm up with 2 miles and strides. Then do a 15 minutes tempo run. While this initial tempo run is hard enough to fall in the tempo run effort zone, it should feel like it's more on te comfortable side of the comfortable-hard effort scale.
After a recovery jog of 5 to 7 minutes, run a second tempo run of about the same length. The pace of this second tempo run should be slightly more agressive and feel like its more on the hard side of the comfortable-hard effort scale. Part of the perception will be from fatigue introduced by the previous tempo run, and part because you're actually running faster. As you can stronger, you can extend the length of each run until your total time at tempo pace reaches 45 minutes.
Eyestone, Ed. "We all need speed." Runners World