What is a Tempo Run: Unlocking the Benefits for Runners

A tempo run is a specific type of running workout designed to help runners build speed and endurance. It involves maintaining a comfortably hard pace for an extended time, typically 20 minutes or longer.

This type of training aims to improve the body’s ability to run faster for more extended periods, making it an essential component of many training plans for races ranging from 5Ks to half marathons.

During a typical tempo run, runners should aim for a pace that is about 25-30 seconds per mile slower than their 5K race pace, or 15-20 seconds per mile slower than their 10K race pace.

The goal of tempo running is not to feel intense, but rather maintain a slightly slower pace than the targeted race day goal, allowing the body to adapt and become more efficient at prolonged periods of higher intensity.

Tempo runs offer significant benefits for runners of all levels, including increased lactate threshold, muscular strength, and mental focus.

By incorporating these workouts into their training plans, runners can effectively enhance their ability to maintain a faster pace for extended distances, ultimately leading to improved race times and overall performance.

What Is a Tempo

A tempo run is a type of running workout designed to help runners develop and maintain a consistent, comfortably hard pace for an extended period, usually around 20 to 40 minutes.

The goal of a tempo run is to build endurance, improve running economy, and increase lactate threshold—the point at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the muscles.

In general, the tempo run pace should be one that a runner could maintain for about an hour in a race.

For example, it is often suggested to aim for 25 to 30 seconds per mile slower than the current 5K race pace or 15 to 20 seconds per mile slower than the 10K race pace.

There are various formats for tempo runs, but a common structure includes a warm-up, tempo-paced running, and a cooldown.

The warm-up usually consists of 10 to 15 minutes of easy running, followed by the tempo portion, and finally, a cooldown of light jogging and walking for another 10 minutes to help bring the heart rate down.

Tempo runs should feel comfortably hard and require maintaining a steady pace for the designated period. They differ from other running workouts, such as intervals or Fartlek runs, which involve varying the intensity throughout the workout.

Benefits of Tempo Runs

Increased Lactate Threshold

One of the primary benefits of tempo runs is the increase in lactate threshold. During a tempo run, the body produces lactic acid at a higher rate, which in turn improves its ability to clear lactic acid.

This enhanced lactate clearance allows runners to maintain a higher pace for longer periods without experiencing heavy or fatigued legs after a workout,

Improved Running Economy

Tempo running also helps improve running economy by building both slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers. A tempo pace falls between comfortable, light runs and all-out efforts, contributing to the overall efficiency of a runner’s motion.

This increased efficiency means the runner uses less energy to maintain the same pace, enabling them to cover longer distances without tiring out as quickly.

Enhanced Mental Toughness

Adding tempo runs into a training routine can help develop mental toughness.

As tempo runs require runners to maintain a challenging but manageable pace for an extended period, they teach the body and mind to handle physical discomfort and push through tough situations.

This mental fortitude carries over to race situations, allowing runners to push themselves beyond their perceived limits and achieve their goals.

How to Incorporate Tempo Runs

Types of Tempo Runs

There are different ways to incorporate tempo runs into your training plan. Some popular types include:

  • Steady Tempo Run: Maintain a consistent effort level for an extended period or distance, typically around 20 minutes or more.
  • Progression Tempo Run: Start at a comfortable pace and gradually increase to tempo pace, maintaining that intensity for a set period before cooling down.
  • Interval or Fartlek Tempo Runs: Alternate between faster tempo pace intervals and slower recovery intervals.

Determining Your Tempo Pace

Tempo pace is generally described as a comfortably hard effort – not too easy or too difficult. To determine your ideal tempo pace, consider the following:

  1. Calculate 80-90% of your maximum heart rate, which can help you maintain tempo pace within your body’s aerobic capacity.
  2. Use a recent race result, such as your 10K or half-marathon time, to estimate your tempo pace using online race pace calculators or Runner’s World’s guidelines.
  3. Listen to your body and tune into your perceived exertion. Your tempo pace should feel challenging but manageable for an extended period.

Scheduling Tempo Runs

Integrating tempo runs into your training schedule varies depending on your fitness level and race goals:

  • Beginner runners can start by incorporating one tempo run every 2-3 weeks to build endurance and aerobic capacity gradually.
  • Experienced runners can include one tempo run per week, alternating between different tempo run types to challenge their body in various ways.
  • When preparing for a race, consider including more focused tempo workouts that mimic the race distance and terrain, such as Trail and Kale’s recommendation of combining tempo runs with hill repeats or other targeted workouts.

Remember to monitor your body’s response to tempo runs and adjust your training plan accordingly.

It’s essential to balance high-intensity workouts with adequate recovery, ensuring optimal performance and injury prevention.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Running Too Fast

One common mistake runners make during tempo runs is running too fast, which can lead to fatigue and decreased effectiveness of the workout.

To avoid this issue, maintain a pace that is slightly slower than your current 5K or 10K race pace.

It is essential to focus on your own desired effort and not turn tempo runs into races, especially in group training settings.

Inadequate Warm-Up

Another common mistake is not warming up properly before starting a tempo run.

To avoid injury and optimize your workout, ensure you spend at least 10-15 minutes warming up with light jogging, dynamic stretches, or other low-intensity movements to prepare your body for the more demanding pace.

Ignoring Recovery

Recovery is crucial when incorporating tempo runs into your training routine.

Make sure to include ample rest days and recovery runs in your plan, ensuring you can complete your weekly training sessions without excessive fatigue.

Listen to your body and adjust your training plan as needed to avoid overtraining and potential injury.

Remember, tempo runs are meant to be a challenging yet sustainable workout, not an all-out race effort.

Tips for a Successful Tempo Run

Executing an effective tempo run requires attention to various factors. The following tips can help you get the most out of your tempo run training.

Listening to Your Body

During a tempo run, it is crucial to maintain a consistent, comfortably hard pace.

Pay attention to your breathing and form, making adjustments as needed. Don’t push yourself too hard; instead, strive for a pace that feels challenging yet sustainable.

If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop and evaluate whether you need to modify your session or take a break.

Choosing the Right Environment

Selecting an appropriate location for your tempo run is essential. Ideally, it would help if you chose a flat, smooth surface with minimal distractions, allowing you to maintain a steady pace and focus on your breathing.

A track or a well-maintained trail can be excellent options for a tempo run. Additionally, consider the weather conditions and plan your run on days with optimal temperatures and minimal wind or precipitation.

Progressing Gradually

As with any form of exercise, gradually building up your tempo run duration and intensity is vital. Start with shorter intervals and slowly increase the time spent at your tempo pace. For those new to tempo running, consider intervals of one mile at tempo pace, followed by a short rest or walk, repeating this two to four times.

Over time, you can progress to continuous tempo runs lasting 20 to 40 minutes or longer, while ensuring proper form and steady, even breathing throughout.


Tempo runs are an essential component of a runner’s training plan, aimed at improving both physical fitness and mental strength.

These runs involve a comfortably hard, steady-state effort lasting between 20 and 30 minutes, enabling runners to build endurance and maintain faster paces for longer periods.

When incorporating tempo runs into a training routine, it’s crucial to find the appropriate pace: a level of effort that could be sustained for about an hour in a race.

This might be 25 to 30 seconds per mile slower than a runner’s current 5K race pace, or 15 to 20 seconds per mile slower than their 10K race pace.

By regularly including tempo runs in their training, runners can expect enhanced running efficiency, stronger ability to maintain a consistent pace, and increased mental resilience during races.

For optimal results, it is recommended that runners balance tempo runs with other types of workouts such as interval training, hill repeats, and recovery runs.

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