It took me some time to understand how to do a tempo run right.
It sounds fairly easy, run at a comfortably hard speed for about 30-60 minutes. But that definition is quite vague, there’s a huge difference between 30 minutes and 60 minutes, and what is a comfortably hard speed anyway?
The time (or distance) and speed of your tempo run should be set depending on what kind of race you are training for, and if you are not training for any particular race then you can decide time and speed based on your preference of getting a bit faster, or getting better at longer runs.
Keep in mind that the tempo run starts after you are warmed up.
Figuring out your pace for a tempo run:
If you’ve run races before, or are an experienced runner, you are most likely familiar with what your average pace at race effort is for a specific distance.
If you are relatively new to running and haven’t run races yet, you could time one of your regular ones, preferably one where you’ve made a bit of an extra effort.
For example, if you ran a 10K in 50:00 minutes, your average pace for the run was 05:00 Min/KM or 08:03 Min/Miles. That is the pace you should run your tempo run at if you were training for a 10K.
I actually really like the 10K distance for racing, but also for training, it’s not too short that you have to go all out on speed, but it’s not too long that you are training more on endurance than on speed.
This is a great calculator to figure out your paces/times for other distances, even if you haven’t run them, but entering a distance and time of a recent race/run.
Figuring out your time/distance for a tempo run:
The time or distance of your tempo run will be directly related to the distance you are training for.
Since you will be running at goal race pace, you should not run your tempo as long as the race distance, leave that for race day.
Guidelines of tempo Run distance for a particular race:
For a 5K, a 3 KM (approximately 2 miles) tempo run will be enough. For a 10K, do your tempo run for 5-6 KM (approximately 3-4 miles). For a half marathon distance, start with 9KM/6M and go up to around 14KM/9M. For the marathon distance, between 13KM/8M and 19KM/12M should be enough.
How to make the most of your tempo run:
A tempo run should take some effort, so whether you are trying to gain speed or endurance, you should make the most of it.
Be smart and think thoroughly beforehand of how you want to run it, study your race times and recent runs times and find a happy medium. For me taking a conservative approach is best, there’s always time to go up in speed/distance next time.
Listen to your body while running your tempo to gain experience on how a pace feels, especially as time goes on and you get tired. You don’t want to run too fast or too long to the point of exhaustion, although taking it to easy will not shield any benefits either.
I really believe there is no shame in cutting a run short because you were too ambitious in planning of your pace/distance. This doesn’t mean you are quitting, it means you need a few more weeks to gradually get to the point where you can do the run without burning out.
I went for a tempo run this morning, 11K/6.8M total, the first 2K/1.2M being a warm up, the next 5K/3.1M at a comfortable pace of 05:00 Min/KM (08:03 Min/Mile), and the last 4K/2.5M at 10K goal pace of 04:20 Min/KM (06:58 Min/Mile).
Unfortunately I didn’t run the last 4K/2.5M at an even pace, the first KM of the 4 was slower (I really couldn’t push my pace any more), and the other 3 were faster. Talk about our bodies needing time to adjust to a certain speed. In the end I did average the last 4K at exactly 04:20, so mostly mission accomplished.. although I do wish I had run more evenly.