What is a Tempo Run and How do I do it?

Are you looking to enhance your running performance and boost your stamina? If so, incorporating tempo runs into your training routine can be a game-changer. Tempo runs, also known as threshold runs, are a key staple in many training plans.

man running long distance

They are designed to improve your lactate threshold, build endurance, and increase your speed for longer distances. In this comprehensive guide, we will dive deep into the world of tempo runs, exploring what they are, how to do them correctly, and the benefits they provide. So, lace up your running shoes and let’s get started on this exhilarating journey!

Understanding Tempo Runs

What is a Tempo Run?

A tempo run is a sustained effort run that challenges your body to maintain a faster pace for an extended period. It falls under the category of speed workouts, alongside fartlek and interval training. Unlike all-out sprints or easy jogs, tempo runs require you to find a pace that is challenging yet sustainable. The goal is to run at a pace that feels “comfortably hard” for a duration of 20 minutes or more.

The Purpose of Tempo Runs

Tempo runs serve several purposes in your training regimen. One of the primary benefits is improving your lactate threshold. The lactate threshold is the maximum speed at which your body can clear lactate (lactic acid) while still maintaining a steady effort. By practicing tempo runs, you can push your lactate threshold higher, allowing you to run faster for longer periods without experiencing excessive fatigue.

How to Do Tempo Runs Correctly

Finding Your Tempo Running Pace

Determining the right tempo running pace is crucial for an effective workout. It is important to strike a balance between pushing yourself and maintaining control. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a leisurely walk and 10 being an all-out sprint, your tempo pace should fall between a 6 and 8. This intensity level should feel challenging but sustainable for the duration of your run.

Incorporating Tempo Runs into Your Training Schedule

To reap the full benefits of tempo runs, it is important to incorporate them strategically into your training schedule. Start by building a solid running base before adding tempo runs to your routine. Once you have established a foundation, designate a specific day each week for your tempo run. This allows your body to recover adequately between sessions and ensures you can give your best effort during each workout. Remember, quality over quantity is key.

Benefits of Tempo Running Training

Enhancing Your Lactate Threshold

One of the primary benefits of tempo running training is improving your lactate threshold. As mentioned earlier, the lactate threshold is the point at which lactate begins to accumulate in your muscles faster than your body can clear it. By regularly incorporating tempo runs into your training, you can raise this threshold, allowing you to sustain a faster pace for longer periods without succumbing to fatigue.

Building Speed and Endurance

Tempo runs are an excellent tool for building both speed and endurance. By maintaining a challenging pace for an extended duration, you are conditioning your body to adapt to the demands of running at a faster speed. Over time, your muscles become more efficient, allowing you to maintain the tempo pace for longer distances. This increased speed and endurance will translate into improved performance during races and training runs.

Mental Benefits of Tempo Runs

Developing Mental Toughness

Running is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Tempo runs provide an opportunity to develop mental toughness and resilience. Pushing through the discomfort and challenging your mind to stay focused during a tempo run can improve your ability to endure and persevere during races. By regularly training at a challenging yet sustainable pace, you build mental fortitude that will serve you well on race day.

Sample Tempo Run Workouts

Workout 1: The Classic Tempo Run

This classic tempo run workout involves a warm-up, a sustained tempo effort, and a cool-down.

  1. Begin with a 10-minute warm-up at an easy pace to prepare your body for the workout.
  2. Run at your tempo pace (6-8 effort) for 20 minutes.
  3. Finish with a 10-minute cool-down at an easy pace to help your body recover.

Workout 2: Beginner Cruise Intervals

This workout incorporates intervals to break up the sustained effort, making it more manageable for beginners.

  1. Start with a mile at your tempo pace.
  2. Take a 60-second rest or recovery interval.
  3. Repeat the tempo and recovery intervals two to four times.

Workout 3: Long Distance Tempo Session

This workout is designed for marathon runners or those training for longer distances.

  1. Begin with a 20-minute tempo pace run.
  2. Follow it with 20 minutes at an easy pace.
  3. Finish with another 20-minute tempo pace run.

These sample workouts provide a starting point, but feel free to adjust the duration and intensity based on your fitness level and goals.

How Often to Do Tempo Runs

Frequency of Tempo Runs

The frequency of your tempo runs depends on your training goals and overall fitness level. For most runners, incorporating one high-quality tempo run per week is sufficient. This allows your body ample time to recover and adapt to the demands of the workout. More experienced runners may choose to include a second tempo run or interval workout, but it is important to listen to your body and avoid overtraining.

Tips for a Successful Tempo Run

Warm-Up and Cool-Down

Before diving into a tempo run, it is essential to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for the workout. Perform dynamic warm-up exercises such as arm swings, leg swings, and squats to activate your muscles and increase blood flow. After completing the tempo portion of your run, cool down with a few minutes of easy jogging or walking to aid in recovery and prevent muscle soreness.

Mental Focus and Form

During a tempo run, maintaining mental focus and proper running form are crucial. Stay present and focused on your pace, breathing, and overall effort. Pay attention to your posture, stride length, and foot strike to ensure optimal efficiency and reduce the risk of injury.

Gradual Progression

When incorporating tempo runs into your training, it is important to progress gradually. Start with shorter durations and gradually increase the time spent at your tempo pace. This approach allows your body to adapt and minimizes the risk of overexertion or injury.

Tracking and Evaluating Your Tempo Runs

Use Technology

Take advantage of running apps or GPS watches to track your tempo runs accurately. These devices provide real-time data on your pace, distance, and heart rate, allowing you to monitor your progress and make adjustments as needed. Use the data from your tempo runs to evaluate your performance and set realistic goals for future workouts.

Additional Considerations for Tempo Runs

Terrain Variation

Incorporating variation in terrain during your tempo runs can enhance the training stimulus. Running on hills or challenging surfaces adds an extra level of difficulty, helping to build strength and endurance. However, it is essential to listen to your body and adjust your pace accordingly when tackling hilly terrain.

Fueling and Hydration

Proper fueling and hydration are essential for optimal performance during tempo runs. Ensure you are properly hydrated before your run and consider taking small sips of water or a sports drink during longer tempo sessions. Additionally, fuel up with a balanced meal or snack containing carbohydrates and protein to provide the energy your body needs to sustain the effort.

Recovery and Rest

Tempo runs place significant stress on your muscles and cardiovascular system. To optimize your training, prioritize recovery and rest days. Adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and active recovery exercises such as foam rolling or gentle stretching can help your body recover and adapt to the demands of tempo training.


Congratulations! You have completed the ultimate guide to tempo runs. By now, you should have a solid understanding of what tempo runs are, how to perform them correctly, and the numerous benefits they offer. Incorporating tempo runs into your training routine can take your running performance to new heights, improving your lactate threshold, speed, and endurance. Remember to start gradually, listen to your body, and enjoy the process. So, lace up your shoes, hit the pavement, and embrace the exhilarating challenge of tempo runs. Your run time will thank you!