Tempo Run Challenge

As mentioned in a previous post (HERE), with no race calendar on the horizon, I’m doing a series of monthly run challenges. I recently completed a challenge for the tempo run. 

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Tempo Run Challenge
The goal for this challenge is to run at tempo intensity for 30 continuous minutes by month’s end. To practice for this challenge, one run at tempo intensity is to take place each week, starting at 10 minutes and gradually building to the goal of 30 continuous minutes.
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Background to this Challenge 
The tempo run is part of threshold training and is aimed at raising the runner’s lactate threshold and further improving endurance ability. It is a steady run done for a certain length of time. Subjectively, the pace feels “comfortably hard”. According to running coach, Jack Daniels, tempo runs are best done at a pace the runner can sustain for one hour. For example if a runner finishes a 10K race in 60 minutes then their tempo run pace is 6:00/km (9:39/mile). Also tempo pace can be calculated by adding a race or time trial result into an online running calculator.

While pace can be used to guide the comfortably hard feature of the tempo run, in a recent post (HERE) I mentioned using perceived exertion and breathing pattern to monitor running. Therefore this comfortably hard pace is simplified to a perceived exertion of 8 out of 10 and a breathing pattern of being able to “say a couple of short sentences here or there”. And if breathing is getting out of control, easing off a touch. Running coach, Steve Magness, advises doing this type of running for 10 - 30 minutes per week, hence 30 minutes was set as the goal for this run challenge.

How to Track Tempo Run Success
How do I know if I am improving in my tempo running ability? First of all, I’m certain this quote by Jack Daniels was intended for me. (As I tend to race my workouts!) “Please remember not to run faster than threshold pace when doing a tempo workout...When a workout begins to feel easier, use that feeling to support the idea that you’re getting fitter. Then prove that you’re getting better in a race, not in a workout.” So, what I focused on for success in this running challenge was maintaining the rate of perceived exertion and breathing pattern mentioned above for a set time each week, while avoiding racing the workout. I started at 10 continuous minutes and worked my way up to the goal time of 30 minutes.

How Did It Go?
While not perfect, overall this monthly run challenge was a success. I did reach my goal of 30 continuous minutes of tempo running. And this challenge confirmed to me that I could tempo run successfully using perceived exertion and breathing pattern as a guide. Of interest, with one exception, my tempo pace was pretty close to what I’d expect it to be, even though not tracked during the run. However, while a 30 minute tempo gave me a workout, it left me more "exhausted" than "exhilarated" - which is valuable information for this runner to know! When the race calendar opens and training toward a goal race resumes; I'll be doing my tempo runs closer to 20 minutes as I felt closer to “exhilarated" afterward with less recovery time needed.  

According to running coaches, tempo training can be added early, midpoint, or late in the runner’s training schedule. After this monthly challenge I’d have to conclude that a weekly tempo run should indeed be part of the runner’s training schedule. Especially noticeable is an improvement in running form and biomechanics. Tempo running brings out the need to be as efficient as possible. After my third week of tempo running, I began noticing my foot strike felt more midfoot and underneath me in the 6 o’clock position, similar to the picture above.

The importance of tempo running has been recently brought up in the context of the "minimal dose" required to maintain running fitness. In discussing this topic, journalist Alex Hutchinson commented, “Over the years, as my own training has waxed and waned depending on the circumstances, the one non-negotiable element has remained a weekly tempo run... It’s a shock to the system when my training has been patchy, but if that’s the minimum effective dose that ensures I never get truly out of shape, then I’m happy to swallow it.”
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Readers may be interested in these posts related to tempo running and a monthly run challenge:

Monthly run challenge - Running Resolutions for 2021

Comfortably hard running - Reconsidering Running by Feel

An earlier post on tempo running with additional pointers from Jack Daniels - Trying to Master the "Elusive" Tempo Run

Interestingly, this previous post on running biomechanics doesn’t mention midfoot strike at the 6 o’clock position which tempo running seems to bring out - Spending a Moment on Running Biomechanics

Thanks for reading! I’m interested in hearing what you think, is a weekly tempo run one of those essential workouts that should be part of the runner’s training schedule throughout the year?



Experiment of One Coaching covers topics ranging from running, strength training, health & wellness, sports nutrition to travel.