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What Is a Tempo Run?

Your First Tempo Run

When you get right down to it, running is not about being comfortable; it's about pushing limits. Once you have been running for a while, to stay engaged in the repetitive act of putting one foot in front of the other, you have to challenge yourself. One such challenge is to run faster. This quest for speed is why so many running schedules contain a variety of runs. The long, slow run for endurance mixed with interval and tempo workouts for speed.

A tempo run is exciting and a little nerve-wracking because the goal is to work outside of your comfort zone, but at a steady pace unlike intervals where periods of pushing yourself hard are followed by a period of recovery. The one advantage of the tempo run is that it is short. This decrease in time hopefully makes up for the increase in sustained intensity. A tempo run is not sprinting, but as ultra marathoner Dean Karnazes puts it " running comfortably hard." I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but trying to find that comfortable, yet hard pace will force you to challenge yourself while listening to your body. Experiment until you find a pace you can sustain without beginning to struggle.

Time Pace
00:00-10:00 Warm up: Jog
10:00-20:00 Tempo: Run
20:00-30:00 Cool down: Jog

You should aim to do a tempo run every seven to ten days. As you progress, keep this simple formula, but add a couple minutes to the tempo run portion of your workout.

Here are a few more parameters Runner's World offers for figuring out your tempo run pace:

  • Recent Race: Add 30 to 40 seconds to your current 5-K pace or 15 to 20 seconds to your 10-K pace.
  • Heart Rate: 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate.
  • Perceived Exertion: An 8 on a 1-to-10 scale (a comfortable effort would be a 5; racing would be close to a 10).
  • Talk Test: A question like "Pace OK?" should be possible, but conversation won't be.

Now tell me when are you going to try your first tempo run? Speed work is not meant for beginning runners, but runners with a solid base of fitness looking to improve their fitness level.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Ericka McConnell
C-Ruth C-Ruth 6 years
Thanks, my mile has pretty much plateaued, so hopefully this will help improve it!
ahaynes ahaynes 9 years
Thanks Fit and runningesq!
nicole121482 nicole121482 9 years
I started doing it a couple of weeks ago...I start off with a 3 minute walk at 4.0 and then I run my first mile at a 6.8 on the treadmill and then I run my second mile at 7.5 and then I bring it back down to 6.9 for the rest of my run...which all in all equals about a 4 mile run since I run for 36 minutes:) It's tiring but it's GREAT!! :)
hippiecowgirl hippiecowgirl 9 years
Thank you so much for this post! I've been looking for ways to shake up my running workouts. I'm going to try this on my run tomorrow.
Fitness Fitness 9 years
ahaynes, running expert and coach Jeff Galloway believes you should have been running consistently for at least 12 month and have been 6 to 8 eight weeks of hill runs under your belt as well. But there really is not one answer. You want to make sure your body, heart and lungs are strong enough for the speed work so you don't injure yourself.
runningesq runningesq 9 years
Ahaynes, I don't think there is a definite answer, but I would think it's someone who has been running for at least 8-12 months, 20+ mpw.
ahaynes ahaynes 9 years
Fit, what determines whether or not you are a runner with a "solid base of fitness"?
miss-ellie miss-ellie 9 years
thanks for this post! very informative. I might try this next week. I have just started running again a couple of months ago can't wait to try this tempo workout.
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
i have to agree that sometimes you need to change up your routine in order to challenge yourself and this is a really great idea for anyone who's a runner.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
Thanks for this post! I've been sort of confused by the whole idea, and this was really helpful.
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