Without a doubt, the tempo run is my favorite way to get faster.  It’s a speed workout that I look forward to, enjoy during the process, yet feel completely spent when I’m done.  And, I give tempo training full credit for making my 2014 racing season so successful!

What exactly is a tempo run?

In simple terms, a tempo run is a run with an easy and comfortable warm-up, a middle tempo portion that’s run at a sustained faster pace, and an easy slower cool-down.  The warm-up, tempo segment, and cool-down distances vary depending on what distance race you’re training for.


In more scientific terms, a tempo run is often referred to as a lactic threshold run.  In other words, while running and maintaining a faster speed than normal for a prolonged period of time, you teach your body to efficiently utilize oxygen while effectively removing lactic acid and carbon dioxide.  Your body will become adept at running more efficiently as your lactic threshold improves.

Like fartleks, tempo runs can be done most anywhere, and don’t require use of a track. Pick your favorite trail and go for it!  Make sure the trail isn’t overly crowded so you can maintain your consistent exertion level during the tempo portion of your run, though.


Tempo runs provide an excellent opportunity to check your form, and make minor corrections as needed.  Ask yourself, “Am I engaging my core?  Do I tend to slump as I get tired?  Am I over-striding and landing too hard on my lead foot?”  Keep your focus on your breathing, your stride, and whether or not you’re maintaining a consistent exertion level.  Now is not the time to stress over work, or daydream about your upcoming vacation.

Don’t think of running the tempo portion for speed; instead focus on effort.  If you happen to be running at a 7:30 pace and you come upon a hill, don’t maintain your 7:30 pace, instead, maintain the same exertion level which will be a slightly slower pace.

Your exertion level for the tempo portion will be reduced as you train for longer races; however, your tempo distance will increase.  Using an exertion scale of 0-10 with 10 being a full out sprint, your exertion level for a tempo run when training for a 5K might be an 8, but a 6 for marathon training.


Tempo run examples:

  • 5K Training – Warm up for 1 mile, tempo pace for 3 miles at an exertion level of 8, cool down for 1 mile
  • 10K Training – Warm up for 1 mile, tempo pace for 4 miles at an exertion level of 7-8, cool down for 1 mile
  • Half Marathon Training – Warm up for 2 miles, tempo pace for 4-5 miles at an exertion level of 6-7, cool down for 2 miles
  • Marathon Training – Warm up for 3 miles, tempo pace for 6 miles at an exertion level of 6, cool down for 3 miles


Please note that the above scenarios are only suggested tempo run distances and exertion levels.  Fitness levels, prior running base, and other mileage scheduled for the week will determine the specific mileage ratios and exertion levels.

If you haven’t tried training with tempo runs, give them a try.  You have nothing to lose but some time off your splits!


  • Questions:
  • Have you done any type of tempo training in the past?
  • Do you currently incorporate any type of speed work into your workouts?
  • What is your favorite type of speed training?