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Having fun with tempo runs

Tempo in the snow.

Tempo runs in the snow.

In the last couple weeks, I outlined the broad strokes of what a runner might do over the winter. One of the main elements I suggested was the tempo run. This is a workout you are probably familiar with: 20 minutes at tempo pace — or half marathon effort or threshold pace — is pretty standard across training programs, but there are many variations of the tempo. Mixing it up and working at different paces around tempo can be very beneficial. Here’s a run-down of a few possibilities:

Marathon Pace

If your marathon goal is 4:00 or slower, there’s probably not much difference between your marathon pace and your easy run pace; your goal is really just to get to the point where you can complete the distance. For runners in the 2:30 to 3:45 range, however, it will do you a lot of good to practice running at the pace you hope to run your marathon. Some sample workouts might be 6 x 10 minutes at marathon pace with one minute of easier jog recovery, or 60 to 90 minutes at marathon pace, alone or as part of a longer run. You can also mix your marathon pace with other efforts, which I’ll cover below.

Steady State Effort (SSE)

Most tempo work is not based more on effort than pace. The reason for this is that the physiological zone we’re working in is the anaerobic threshold, and your ability to run a certain speed at threshold can vary from day to day. So while with intervals you are trying to hit a particular pace, with SS and other tempos, you want to base the run on effort. Steady state effort refers to about 2:00 of race effort. So, for fast marathoners (under 2:30) it might be your race pace. For others it may be closer to your 30K effort, or even your half-marathon effort. Generally, SSE is faster than marathon pace but slower than half-marathon pace, but the key to remember is effort. We run a SS workouts early in the year starting at about 30 minutes of continuous work, and building up to an hour for some advanced runners. You can also cycle in some surges to 5K pace in a SS workout, so 30 minutes at SS with 15 seconds at 5K.


What I call tempo refers to running specifically at half-marathon effort, so anything from 1:00 to 2:00 of race effort. For those training specifically to run a half-marathon, you may run these similarly to the marathon pace workouts. That is, run a specific pace to get ready for that race. But tempos have an excellent training effect and should be used by everyone! Tempo runs are the simplest workouts, and we don’t do too much variation here: 20 to 60 minutes at tempo is the staple. For younger or less experienced runners, you can certainly split the tempo into 2 x 10 minutes or 2 x 15 minutes.


Next week we’ll look at faster paces, like cruise pace, 10K pace and mixing up paces!