What Is a Tempo Run? Benefits and Techniques

What is a tempo run - A man runs at a fast pace which demonstrates the workout
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Running is a popular physical activity around the world, and runners utilize various styles of running to improve their performance and reach their goals. Among these styles is the tempo run, a workout that has gained popularity in recent years due to its proven benefits.

Let’s take some time to explore the ins and outs of tempo runs, including their definition, origin, key components, types, benefits, techniques, and integration into your training plan.

Defining a Tempo Run

A tempo run is a running workout that involves sustaining a faster pace than your normal running speed for a specific duration of time. In other words, a tempo run is a “comfortably hard” workout where you push yourself to run faster than your usual pace. The tempo run aims to improve your running economy, boost your lactate threshold, and enhance your overall endurance and stamina.

The Origin of Tempo Runs

The concept of the tempo run was first introduced by Arthur Lydiard, a renowned New Zealand running coach, in the 1960s. Lydiard believed runners could improve their endurance and speed by incorporating high-intensity workouts into their training plans. Thus, he developed the concept of a tempo run, called “steady-state” running, to help his athletes build endurance and improve their lactate threshold.

Lydiard’s approach to training was revolutionary at the time, as most coaches believed long, slow-distance running was the key to building endurance. However, Lydiard’s athletes consistently outperformed their competitors, proving that high-intensity workouts like the tempo run were crucial for success.

Key Components of a Tempo Run

A tempo run has three key components: duration, effort, and recovery. The duration of a tempo run can range from 10 minutes to over an hour, depending on your training goals and fitness level. The effort of a tempo run should be at a comfortably hard pace that you can maintain for the duration of the workout. Finally, the recovery period after a tempo run is crucial as it allows your body to rest and replenish, thus enhancing your overall recovery and performance.

It’s important to note that the effort of a tempo run should be specific to your fitness level and training goals. If you’re a beginner runner, your tempo run might involve running slightly faster than your normal running speed for 10-15 minutes. On the other hand, if you’re an experienced runner training for a marathon, your tempo run might involve running at a comfortably hard pace for 60 minutes or more.

Different Types of Tempo Runs

There are various types of tempo runs that you can incorporate into your training plan. These include the classic tempo run, the progression tempo run, the cruise intervals, and the steady-state run, among others.

The classic tempo run involves running at a comfortably hard pace for a set duration, with no breaks in between. This type of tempo run is great for building endurance and improving your lactate threshold.

The progression tempo run involves gradually increasing your pace throughout the workout. This type of tempo run is great for improving your speed and endurance, as it challenges your body to maintain a faster pace over time.

The cruise intervals involve running at a comfortably hard pace for a specific distance, with short recovery periods in between. This type of tempo run is great for improving your speed and endurance, as it challenges your body to maintain a faster pace while also allowing for brief periods of recovery.

Lastly, the steady-state run involves running at a comfortably hard pace for an extended period, usually over 40 minutes. This type of tempo run is great for building endurance and improving your overall running economy.

Overall, incorporating tempo runs into your training plan can significantly impact your running performance. You’ll improve your endurance, boost your lactate threshold, and enhance your overall running economy by challenging your body to maintain a faster pace than your normal running speed. So lace up your shoes and give it a try!

Benefits of Tempo Runs

Demonstrating the start of a tempo run
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Tempo runs are a popular type of workout among runners of all levels. They involve running at a steady, challenging pace for an extended period. While tempo runs can be tough, they offer a range of benefits that make them a valuable addition to any training plan. Some of the benefits of tempo runs include:

Improved Endurance and Stamina

One of the most significant benefits of tempo runs is improved endurance and stamina. By running at a sustained effort for an extended period, your body adapts to higher levels of stress. This adaptation improves endurance and stamina, allowing you to endure longer and more intense workouts. Over time, this increased endurance and stamina will translate into improved race performances.

Notably, tempo runs are not the only way to improve endurance and stamina. Other types of workouts, such as long runs and interval training, can also be effective. However, tempo runs offer a unique challenge that can benefit runners looking to improve their fitness.

Increased Lactate Threshold

The lactate threshold is when your body begins to produce lactic acid faster than it can remove it. This buildup of lactic acid can cause fatigue and muscle soreness, making it difficult to maintain a high level of effort during a workout or race.

By doing tempo runs, you can increase your lactate threshold. Essentially, you are training your body to tolerate higher levels of lactic acid. This means that your body can perform at a higher intensity for a longer duration before fatiguing. This can be especially beneficial for runners who compete in events that require sustained effort, such as marathons or half-marathons.

Enhanced Running Economy

Running economy refers to how efficiently your body uses oxygen while running. Essentially, the more efficiently your body can use oxygen, the less energy it needs to expend to maintain a certain pace. This translates into improved running performance.

You can improve your running economy by incorporating tempo runs into your training plan. Running at a sustained, challenging pace forces your body to become more efficient at using oxygen. Over time, this can translate into faster race times and improved overall fitness.

Mental Toughness and Focus

Tempo runs require mental toughness and focus. Running at a challenging pace for an extended period can be mentally and physically demanding. However, consistently incorporating tempo runs into your training plan can enhance your mental toughness and focus.

This mental toughness can be beneficial not just for running but for other areas of life as well. By learning to push through discomfort and focus on the task, you can develop a mindset that will help you succeed in all areas of life.

In conclusion, tempo runs are valuable to any runner’s training plan. They offer a range of benefits, from improved endurance and stamina to enhanced mental toughness and focus. If you want to take your running to the next level, consider incorporating tempo runs into your routine.

Techniques for a Successful Tempo Run

Tempo Run Technique
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You must use proper techniques to get the most out of your tempo runs. Here are some essential techniques for a successful tempo run:

Warming Up Properly

A proper warm-up before your workout is crucial to prevent injury and prepare your body for the upcoming workout. Before your tempo run, take five to ten minutes to warm up your body with light jogging and dynamic stretching exercises.

During your warm-up, focus on getting your heart rate up and your muscles warmed up. Start with a light jog, gradually building up your pace until you’re at a moderate intensity. Then, incorporate dynamic stretching exercises like leg swings, walking lunges, and high knees. These exercises will help increase your range of motion, improve your flexibility, and prepare your muscles for the workout.

Finding Your Ideal Tempo Pace

The ideal tempo pace is where you can run comfortably, but it’s still challenging enough to provide the training stimulus required to achieve your running goals. Typically, tempo runs are done at a pace around 20-30 seconds slower than your 5K race pace.

When finding your ideal tempo pace, start by doing a few trials runs at different paces. Pay attention to how your body feels at each pace and try to find the sweet spot where you feel challenged but not overwhelmed. Once you’ve found your ideal tempo pace, try to stick to it for the duration of your workout.

Maintaining Consistent Effort

You need to maintain consistent effort throughout the workout to get the most out of your tempo run. Avoid starting too fast or slowing down too much. Instead, try to maintain a steady pace from start to finish.

One way to maintain a consistent effort is to use a metronome or music with a consistent beat. This can help you keep a steady pace and avoid the temptation to speed up or slow down. Another technique is to focus on your breathing. Try to take deep, even breaths throughout your workout, which will help you maintain a consistent effort and avoid fatigue.

Cooling Down and Recovery

After your tempo run, take at least five minutes to cool down with light jogging and stretching exercises. Proper recovery after a workout is crucial to avoid injury and enhance overall performance. Take the time to refuel your body with fluids and nutrients.

During your cool-down, slowly bring your heart rate down and stretch out your muscles. Incorporate some static stretching exercises, such as hamstring stretches, quad stretches, and calf stretches. These exercises will help to improve your flexibility, reduce muscle soreness, and prevent injury.

After your workout, refuel your body with fluids and nutrients. Drink plenty of water and eat a snack containing carbohydrates and protein, such as a banana with peanut butter or a protein shake. This will help to replenish your energy stores and promote muscle recovery.

Integrating Tempo Runs into Your Training Plan

Tempo Run Warmup Stretching
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Now that you understand the benefits and techniques of tempo runs, let’s explore how to incorporate them into your training plan. Tempo runs are a great way to improve your running performance and endurance. They help you build up your lactate threshold, which is the point at which your body starts producing lactic acid faster than it can be cleared away. Regularly incorporating tempo runs into your training plan can improve your ability to run faster for longer periods.

When to Schedule Tempo Runs

You can schedule tempo runs once or twice weekly, depending on your running goals and fitness level. It’s important to place them strategically in your training plan, allowing for adequate recovery time. For example, if you plan to do a long run on the weekend, you may want to schedule your tempo run for mid-week. This will give your body time to recover before your next long run.

Balancing Tempo Runs with Other Workouts

Tempo runs should not be your only workout. While they are an important part of your training plan, balancing them with other workouts such as speed work, hill repeats, and long runs is important. This variety will keep your training exciting and help you achieve your running goals. Speed work helps improve your running economy and ability to run faster. Hill repeats help improve your leg strength and endurance, which can translate into better performance on flat terrain. Long runs help improve your endurance and ability to run longer distances.

Adjusting Tempo Runs for Race Goals

Your tempo run schedule will vary depending on your race goals. For instance, if you’re training for a marathon, your tempo runs will likely be longer and less frequent, while shorter and more frequent for 5K training. Adjust your tempo runs accordingly. It’s also important to consider the terrain of your race. You may want to include more hill repeats in your training plan if you’re running a hilly race.

Remember, incorporating tempo runs into your training plan is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s important to also focus on proper nutrition, hydration, and rest to ensure you’re giving your body the support it needs to perform at its best. You can achieve your running goals and become a stronger, faster runner with dedication and consistency.


Tempo runs are an effective training tool for runners of all levels. Incorporating them into your training plan can enhance your overall endurance, speed, running economy, and mental toughness. Remember to warm up properly, maintain a consistent effort, and allow for adequate recovery. When done correctly, tempo runs can help you achieve your running goals and improve your overall performance.

Written by James Kosur

James is a 20-year veteran of the digital media industry, an avid gym builder, and a dad to four kids, three dogs, and two cats. He's a DIYer who loves building stuff with his hands and a gamer who enjoys all facets of gaming.