The Complete Beginners Guide To Tempo Running

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Looking to build endurance as well as confidence as a runner, then look no further than tempo runs.

In today’s post, I’m going to spill all the beans on what tempo runs are and how do you use them in your training plans.

In this post, you’ll learn:

  • What is tempo running
  • What is the purpose of a tempo run
  • Why you should add tempo running to your plan
  • How long should tempo runs be
  • The benefits of tempo running
  • What is tempo pace and how to achieve it
  • How to perform tempo runs
  • How often should you do tempo runs
  • Can you do a tempo run on the treadmill

Sounds great?

Let’s lace up and dig in.

Tempo Runs Explained

First things first, what is a tempo run?

Also known as lactate threshold runs (we’ll see why), tempo runs refer to speed workouts that help increase endurance and performance.

In essence, a tempo run lies in the middle ground between a casual jog and an-out-effort sprint, usually straddling the line between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

Tempo training has one main purpose: increase your lactate threshold, the point at which oxygen is not being delivered fast enough to your muscles, causing lactic acid—which you know as burning and fatigue—to start to accumulate in your muscles.

What is the Ideal Tempo Running Pace?

Now you know a thing or two about tempo running.

Now, do you actually get started?

Basically, tempo sessions consist of 20 to 30 minutes of continuous running, but at a pace that’s isn’t too challenging.

Instead, the ideal tempo pace is “comfortably hard.”

This is what’s known as the lactate threshold, which is a pace you can sustain for a prolonged period without boosting lactate levels in your blood.

In general, perform your tempo runs at a pace that makes you look forward to ending the session but still manage to keep it up for the entire time and distance.

If you already have a lot of running experience, then a “comfortably hard” pace is a speed that you can keep up for 45 to 60 minutes without much trouble.

This is slightly slower or roughly the same as your 10K pace.

Another way to gauge your tempo pace is trained by a heart rate.

As a rule, shoot for around 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate.

How long Should A tempo Run be?

Tempo run distances depend mostly on your fitness level first, training goals second.

Let me explain.

Your Conditioning

As a beginner, start with no more than 10 to 15 minutes runs at your comfortably hard pace.

(I have already outlined the best tempo run for beginners below, so no worries.)

But things can be a little bit complicated when trying to match tempo run distances to training goals—that’s when you start taking your training a tad bit more serious.

The Goal Distance

The second thing that dictates your tempo run distance is the type of race you’re training for.

Here’s how to match up your tempo runs to your running goals:

  • Training for a 5K race? Your tempo efforts should be around 3 to 4 kilometers.
  • Training for a 10K? Keep your tempo efforts to between 4 to 7 KM.
  • Training for a half marathon? Your tempo efforts should be in the range of 8 to 12 km.
  • Training for a marathon? Your tempo efforts should be in the range of 16 to 24 km.

Note – Faster runners should aim to the higher end of the mileage range.

How Often To Do A Tempo Runs?

How many tempo runs you do during a training cycle is also key to success.

Do too much tempo training, especially during peak training, and you could end pushing your body, causing injury and burnout.

Do fewer tempo runs than required, and you may not reap any training gains.

The key is to find the sweet spot.

As a general rule, I’d recommend doing one tempo run every week.

If that feels like too little, then try doing two sessions within a ten days period.

Tempo Running VS Interval Running – What’s the difference?

Tempo running and interval running have a lot in common, but the main difference lies in the goal behind each.

All in all, both types of training methods have their place in a running plan and are worth doing for improving your running endurance-performance.

In general, interval training is used to improve maximum oxygen consumption—what’s often called VO2 Max.

When you perform intervals, you’re getting close to the “no-talk” zone, where you can only utter a few words.

Recovery is typically long enough so that your intervals stay consistent and under control.

On the other hand, as I have already explained tempo training, is used to increase the lactate threshold.

You don’t take any breaks throughout the session.

The goal is to keep the challenging pace for a set distance or time.

The rest is just details.

By increasing your lactate threshold, you improve your ability to run faster and farther with less fatigue—making you into a better runner in the process.

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Can you Do a Tempo Run on the Treadmill?

Hell yeah.

Actually, treadmill training is the cleanest and most straightforward way to do tempo training—so it’s also ideal for trying out tempo training for the first time.

When you’re training on the treadmill, you can simply choose your target tempo pace then just bang it out.

You don’t need to guestimate anything.

How to Do a Tempo Run?

Though there are many types of tempo runs, they all have one thing in common: you can’t stop running at any point in the workout.

Sure, you still have to start with a proper warm-up and end the run with a cool-down.

But there’s no standing still throughout the run.

That’s the golden rule.

Tempo Workouts To Try

Here are some of the most common tempo workouts to try.

Feel free to switch between these during your training, so you get more bang for your tempo training.

The Sustained Tempo Run

This workout is the most beginner-friendly tempo session there’s.

Sustained tempo runs come in different shapes for both beginners and advanced runners alike.

Here’s a beginner-friendly session to try:

  • Start with a 10-minute warm-up. Lightly jog for 5 minutes, then perform a set of dynamic stretches while on the move for another 5 minutes.
  • Run at a comfortably hard pace for 10 to 15 minutes. Remember: you can’t stop anytime during the effort so pick your pace wisely (check the previous tips on how).
  • Finish with a 5-minute slow jog as a cool down. Stretch your body afterward.

The Treadmill Pace Run

The simplest tempo routines out there.

Here’s how to proceed.

  • Start with a 10-minute warm-up
  • Set your tempo pace, then stick with it for 20-30 minutes.
  • Slow down and cool down for five minutes.

Lactate-Threshold Run

Feel confident in your running ability and want to push a little bit more? Try this more challenging variation.

Here’s how to proceed.

  • Start with a 10-minute slow jog as a warm-up.
  • Run for 20 to 30 minutes at your comfortably hard pace.
  • Finish the run with a 10-minutes jog as a cool-down.

The Tempo Repetition

This variation looks a lot like interval-style runs, but it’s actually more challenging (since you don’t actually take any breaks throughout the workout).

This session shares a lot of similarities to classic intervals, but they’re performed at your tempo pose.

During the recovery, you never stop, but actually, keep jogging until the next rep.

Here’s how to proceed.

  • Start with a 10-minute dynamic warm-up.
  • Run at about pace slightly faster than your tempo pace for three minutes, then slow it down to your warm-up pace for another three
  • Repeat the cycle three times, making sure not to stop during any point of the run.
  • Finish with a 10-minute slow jog as a cool down.

Hilly Tempo Runs

Another way to take your training to the next level is to do it on a hill.

This not only helps improve your endurance and speed but your strength as well.

Hill training is, after all, the best form of strength training for runners.

Locate a very long hill or mountain trail that climbs at roughly five to 10 percent grade on average and will take at least 20 to 30 minutes to run up to.

Start with an easy warm-up jog of 10 to 15 minutes, then go up the hill at tempo run effort for 20 to 30 minutes.

Aim for 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate—or roughly 8.5 out of a ten on the RPE.

It’s key to properly pace yourself and keep your intensity under control early on so that you train with good technique and not build too much lactic acid in your muscles.

Marathon Pace Tempo Run – The Hanson method

Preparing for a race?

Then this variation is for you.

Think of this as a dress rehearsal for your event.

Please keep in mind that this option is only for advanced runners.

Beginner runners don’t even dare.

  • Warm-up for 15 minutes at a slow and steady pace
  • Run at your goal race pace for 60 to 90 minutes.
  • Cool down for 10 minutes.

Conclusion

There you have it!

The above tips are all you need to get started with tempo training as a runner without injuring or overwhelming yourself in the process.

All you have to do is to take action NOW.

The rest is rudimental.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.

Keep training strong.