For both trail and road runners, the tempo is a weekly staple. A tempo run is a controlled and sustained harder effort over a certain time or distance. They are opportunities to practice pushing physically and mentally. Trail tempos hold many of the same principles as road tempos, but require careful consideration for factors specific to trail running. 

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Photo: Jacob Puzey

In general, tempos should be slightly below lactate threshold (LT) effort. LT is the effort when the body begins producing more lactate that can be removed while running at the same pace (think race pace). Training near LT can help our bodies become more efficient at clearing lactate, which contributes to fatigue. In other words, we can go faster for longer, while feeling less tired. The best thing about a tempo on the trails is that the scenery is beautiful. When you feel tired, remember to look at your surroundings. 

1. Determine your distance (or time)

Tempos can be over time or distance. They are usually between 15 to 90-minutes depending on where you are in your training cycle, or what your running goals are. Whatever the time or distance is, run the tempo at an eight to nine on the perceived rate of exertion. Just remember to not race your tempo, as this can slow down recovery for other important training runs throughout the week. 

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2. Choose a runnable trail

On Tempo Tuesday (or whatever day you desire), trail tempos are a time to practice a harder and sustained running effort. It is not the best time to practice your technical trail running skills, and how to move over tree roots and through boulder fields. Also, try not to go scrambling up to your favourite summit on Tuesday. Choose a trail or a path where you are free to run long without the distraction of mother nature’s obstacles. If you have a specific race or even you are working toward, running your tempo run on a trail similar to the course is a good idea. 

Photo: Hilary Matheson

3. Warm up well

Tempos require a good warmup. Ideally you running easy for 15 to 30-minutes prior to starting your tempo. 

4. Focus on effort, not pace

When training for a road marathon, pace matters. On the trails, pace matters much less. Effort trumps pace due to the variability of the terrain. Ignoring the pace feature on your watch can help you tune into your effort on the trail. As a trail climbs or descends, your pace will change, but your effort should not. Even though you aren’t racing, you should avoid deep philosophical conversations during a tempo. You should feel like you can respond to a question, but not carry a conversation. 

5. Cool down

Your cool down can be as long and thorough as your warmup. Enjoy the fruits of your tempo effort and spend your cool down jogging around the pretty forest. 

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