Tempo Training For Runners

Waukee High School Cross Country

What is Tempo Training?

Tempo training is also known as lactate threshold and anaerobic threshold training.

Threshold pace is the effort level just below which the body’s ability to clear lactate, a by-product of carbohydrate metabolism, can no longer keep up with lactate production.

Toby Tanser, author of Train Hard, Win Easy  – The Kenyan Way, says, “The foundation of Kenyan running is based almost exclusively on tempo running.”

World famous coach & exercise physiologist Jack Daniels says, “That pace is 25-30 seconds per mile slower than current 5K race pace.”

Coach Daniels says 20 minutes is ideal

Add 1minute to your 1600 PR to get tempo pace

Why Tempo Training?

Improves running economy

Raises the lactate threshold

Increases VO2max

Increases ventricles in the heart, stroke volume increases = allowing more oxygen extraction from the body

Increases capillary development

Benefits of Tempo Training

If done right – enough time and at the right intensity.  The comfortably hard effort will allow you to have some intense days around the tempo training.

Learning Pace – athletes should not slow down during effort. If anything, build into the correct tempo pace.  An athlete will learn to build to a good sustained pace; translating to being more controlled early on in races.

Tempo runs train the body to use oxygen for metabolism more efficiently. Exercise Scientist Bill Pierce says that metabolic fitness is a crucial physiological variable for running success.

By increasing lactate threshold or the point at which your body fatigues at a certain pace. During tempo runs hydrogen ions and lactate are byproducts of metabolism and are released into the muscles. The muscle becomes acidic due to the ions and leads to fatigue.

With training you are able to push your threshold higher and use lactate and hydrogen ions better. The athlete has less acidic muscles so they keep on contracting, letting you run farther and faster.

Workout examples of Tempo Training

The most beneficial tempo runs are a continued effort of 20min or more depending on the athlete and/or the distance you are training for.  Starting with Tempo Intervals is a great way to monitor pace and for athletes to get an understanding of what it feels like.  To send out athletes on a 20min continued effort to begin with would be a waste of time (either they’d go way too fast or run it too slow).  It may take some athletes an entire season to understand how to run a tempo workout properly, some may take a couple of years to truly learn how to run a tempo workout effectively.

A high school athlete that runs the 1600-5k would benefit greatly from a 20min tempo run once a week.  It might be 20min total of tempo running; with running tempo intervals or cruise intervals as some call them.

Foundation Phase – Competition Phase

Week 1: 2-4 x mile @ Tempo Pace w/ 90sec-2min Rest

Week 2: 2-4 x mile @ TP w/ 60-90sec Rest

Week 3: 3-4 x mile @ TP w/ 60sec Rest

Week 4: Veteran athlete – 2mi @ TP, rest 2min, 2 x 1mi @ TP w/ 60-90sec Rest

OR 2 x 2mi w/ 3min Rest

Frosh/Newbie athlete – 3 x mi @ TP w/ 60sec Rest

Week 5-10: Veteran athlete – 3mi @ TP, 3-5min rest, 1mi @ TP OR 20min continuous TP for athletes that can run it effectively

Frosh/Newbie athlete – 3 x mi @ TP w/ 60sec Rest OR 2mi @ TP, rest 3min, 1-2 x mile @ TP

Championship Phase

Last 3 weeks: This phase is all about racing at a high level and rest.  This phase it might be most beneficial to go back to tempo intervals.  A workout could be to begin with a tempo interval to keep tapping into that system and work towards faster intervals.

2-3 x 1 mile @ TP w/ 60sec – 2min rest

1mile or 2k @ TP w/ 3min rest, 800, 600, 400, 200 (all at race pace or faster)

*You may want to start your younger athletes running 800 or 1ks at tempo pace to get down pacing and effort. You’d just want to decrease the rest with it being a shorter bout.

For more distance running tips, check out this article

Author: Josh Maxwell Head Boys Coach, Waukee High School, Waukee, Iowa

Coach Josh Maxwell