If you are training for a marathon, you might have heard of tempo runs. But what are they exactly and why are they important for your performance and endurance? 

In this blog post, we will delve into the topic- “tempo run for marathon training”, explain what tempo runs are, how they can benefit you, and how to determine your optimal tempo run pace.

What are Tempo Runs?

Tempo runs, also known as threshold runs, are a type of running workout that involves sustaining a comfortably hard pace for a continuous period of time, typically 20 minutes or longer. 

This type of workout can help increase your anaerobic threshold, so your body adapts to performing at a higher intensity comfortably. 

The main purpose of tempo runs is to improve your lactate threshold, which is the point at which your muscles start to produce more lactate than they can clear. 

How Lactate Production Increases Your Race Endurance

Lactate is a by-product of anaerobic metabolism, which occurs when you run faster than your aerobic capacity. When lactate accumulates in your muscles, you start to feel fatigue, pain, and a burning sensation.

The accumulation of lactate in your muscles serves as a signal for your body to adapt and improve its ability to utilize and clear lactate more efficiently. 

Through regular tempo runs, your body becomes better at buffering and metabolizing lactate, ultimately increasing your lactate threshold.

By training at or near your lactate threshold during tempo runs, you are essentially challenging your body to improve its capacity to handle and process lactate. 

Over time, this adaptation allows you to sustain a faster pace for longer durations without experiencing excessive fatigue or discomfort. Thus, the production of lactate during tempo runs helps enhance your endurance and stamina, contributing to improved overall performance in long-distance running.

Tempo Run Workouts Tempo Run vs Interval Training: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to marathon training, people tend to use tempo runs and interval training interchangeably. While they may seem similar, these two workout methods have distinct purposes and contribute differently to your running performance.

The table below sums up some of the key differences between tempo runs and interval training:

Tempo RunsInterval Training
PurposeBuild endurance and staminaBoost speed and anaerobic capacity
Main FocusLactate threshold improvementOxygen utilization and speed enhancement
PaceChallenging but manageableIntense bursts with recovery periods
DurationSustained for an extended periodShort intervals with breaks for recovery
Physiological AimCardiovascular and muscular enduranceIncreased speed and anaerobic performance
BenefitsAbility to sustain a faster pace over a distanceEnhanced speed and ability to handle the intensity

The main difference between tempo runs and interval training is what they focus on in your body. Tempo runs help improve endurance and stamina by training you to maintain a challenging pace and work on your lactate threshold.

On the other hand, interval training emphasizes speed and anaerobic capacity. It involves intense intervals where you push your body to its limits, followed by recovery periods.

What Are the Benefits of Tempo Run for Marathon Training?

benefits tempo run for marathon training

When it comes to marathon training, incorporating tempo runs into your routine can greatly improve your performance. Let us explore some of the benefits of tempo runs and why they are worth incorporating into your marathon training regimen.

1. Improved Anaerobic Threshold

One of the primary benefits of tempo runs is the improvement of your anaerobic threshold. 

The anaerobic threshold refers to the point at which your body transitions from primarily using aerobic energy (oxygen) to relying more on anaerobic energy (without oxygen). 

During tempo runs, you run at a comfortably hard pace, slightly below your maximum effort, but challenging enough to increase your lactate threshold. 

This sustained effort helps your body adapt and become more efficient at clearing lactate, a byproduct of anaerobic metabolism, from your muscles. As a result, you’ll be able to maintain a faster pace for a longer duration before fatigue sets in, ultimately improving your marathon performance.

2. Enhanced Running Economy

Another significant benefit of tempo runs is the improvement of your running economy. Running economy refers to how efficiently your body uses oxygen to maintain a specific pace. 

During tempo runs, you focus on running at a controlled, steady pace, mimicking the intensity you’ll experience during a marathon. 

This sustained effort helps your body become more efficient in using oxygen and energy, as well as improving your overall running form and stride efficiency. 

Over time, this increased efficiency translates into an improved running economy, enabling you to maintain a faster pace with less energy expenditure during your marathon races.

3. Mental Toughness and Discipline

Marathon training is not just about physical fitness; it also requires mental toughness and discipline. 

Tempo runs provide an excellent opportunity to develop and strengthen these mental attributes. Running at a challenging pace for an extended period can push you outside your comfort zone and teach you to endure discomfort and fatigue.

During tempo runs, it’s common to experience physical and mental fatigue. However, by staying committed and pushing through these challenging moments, you develop mental fortitude and learn to persevere when faced with obstacles during a marathon race. 

Tempo runs provide a controlled environment for you to practice mental toughness, enabling you to handle the mental and physical demands of a marathon more effectively.

4. Increased Confidence

Tempo runs can significantly boost your confidence as a marathon runner. As you consistently complete tempo workouts, you’ll notice improvements in your speed, endurance, and overall performance. 

This progress not only reflects your physical capabilities but also instills a sense of accomplishment and confidence in your training.

Running at a challenging pace and achieving your desired results during tempo runs reinforces the belief that you can perform well during a marathon. 

This increased confidence can have a positive impact on your mental outlook, helping you approach race day with a positive mindset and the belief that you have what it takes to succeed.

How Fast Should Tempo Runs Be?

Your tempo run pace should be challenging yet sustainable, allowing you to maintain a comfortably hard effort throughout the workout. 

Let’s explore different methods that might help you determine your tempo run pace effectively.

1. Use the “Talk Test”

One simple and effective way to gauge your tempo run pace is by using the “talk test.” 

This method allows you to find the right intensity for your tempo runs and ensure you’re running at a challenging pace while maintaining control and sustaining the effort throughout the workout.

Here’s how you can use the talk test to find the right pace:

  1. During your tempo run, pay attention to your ability to speak:
  1. Assess your effort level:
    • If you can chat effortlessly without feeling taxed, you may not be running at the intended tempo pace.
    • On the other hand, if you’re completely breathless and unable to utter a word, you might be pushing too hard.
  1. Aim for the sweet spot:
    • The ideal tempo run pace is where you can speak a few words or short sentences with some effort.
    • You should feel challenged but still able to maintain control and sustain the effort throughout the workout.

By using the talk test, you can find the right intensity for your tempo runs and ensure that you’re hitting the desired pace. It serves as a practical guideline to help you optimize your training and achieve the intended benefits of tempo running.

Remember, the talk test is a tool to guide you, and individual variations may apply. Factors such as fitness level, environmental conditions, and personal preferences can influence your perception of effort. 

Adjustments may be necessary as you become more familiar with your own capabilities.

Once you find the pace where speaking a few words or short sentences feels challenging but manageable, you’ve likely discovered the right tempo run intensity. 

2. Calculate Your Tempo Run Pace Using Your Race Pace

Another method to determine your tempo run pace is to base it on your goal race pace. As a general guideline, your tempo run pace should be around 80-90% of your projected marathon race pace. 

For example, if you’re aiming to run a marathon at an 8-minute per mile pace, your tempo run pace would be around 6 minutes and 24 seconds to 7 minutes and 12 seconds per mile.

Using your race pace as a reference helps you simulate the demands of your goal race during your tempo runs. It also ensures that you’re training at an appropriate intensity to improve your speed, endurance, and overall race performance.

3. Utilize Heart Rate Monitoring

Training within specific heart rate zones can ensure that you’re targeting the right effort level for your tempo runs. Heart rate monitoring is also an effective means to determine your tempo pace.

Here’s how to utilize heart rate monitoring to determine your tempo run pace:

Calculate Your Maximum Heart Rate

To estimate your maximum heart rate, use the formula 220 minus your age. 

For example, if you are 35 years old, your estimated maximum heart rate would be 220 – 35 = 185 beats per minute (bpm). 

Keep in mind that this is a general formula and individual variations may apply.

Identify Your Target Heart Rate Zone for Tempo Runs

Your target heart rate zone for tempo runs typically ranges from 80% to 90% of your maximum heart rate. 

Let’s take the example of a 35-year-old runner with a calculated maximum heart rate of 185 bpm:

Therefore, for this runner, the target heart rate zone for tempo runs would be approximately 148 bpm to 166.5 bpm. You should be able to track your target heart rate with a smartwatch.

Keep Your Heart Rate Within the Target Zone

During your tempo runs, aim to keep your heart rate within the target zone. This range represents the desired intensity level for these workouts. 

Using our example, If the heart rate of the 35-year-old runner consistently exceeds 166.5 bpm, it may indicate that the runner is pushing too hard. 

On the other hand, if it remains significantly below 148 bpm, the runner may need to increase their pace slightly to reach the desired effort level.

How to Structure Your Tempo Run Workouts

Once you have determined your tempo run pace, it’s important to structure your workouts effectively to maximize the benefits and progress in your marathon training. 

A well-structured tempo run not only helps you improve your anaerobic threshold and running economy but also enhances your overall endurance. 

Let’s learn how you can structure your tempo run workouts for optimal results.

1. Warm-up and Cool-down

Before diving into the main portion of your tempo run, it’s crucial to include a proper warm-up and cool-down. 

The warm-up prepares your body for the upcoming intensity, increases blood flow to your muscles, and helps prevent injuries. 

Begin with 5-10 minutes of light jogging or dynamic stretching to gradually raise your heart rate and loosen up your muscles.

Following your tempo run, a cool-down allows your body to gradually return to its resting state and aids in the recovery process. Include 5-10 minutes of easy jogging or walking, followed by gentle stretching to promote muscle relaxation and flexibility.

2. The Tempo Run Interval

The tempo run interval is the main component of your workout and involves running at a challenging, sustained pace over a period of time. Here are a few different ways to structure the tempo run interval:

Continuous Tempo Run

In this approach, you maintain a steady tempo pace throughout the entire run. Start with a duration that challenges you but is manageable, such as 15-20 minutes. 

As your fitness improves, gradually increase the duration to 30-40 minutes or longer. Remember to maintain a consistent pace throughout the interval.

Split Tempo Run

A split tempo run involves breaking up the overall tempo run duration into smaller intervals. 

For example, you could run three sets of 10 minutes at a tempo pace, with a short recovery jog or walk between each set. This allows you to maintain a high-quality effort while providing brief periods of active recovery.

Progression Tempo Run

A progression tempo run involves gradually increasing your pace throughout the run. Start at a slightly slower pace than your desired tempo pace and progressively pick up the speed as you go. 

This approach helps simulate the fatigue you may experience during the later stages of a marathon and teaches you to maintain a strong pace when tired.

How to Incorporate Tempo Runs into Your Marathon Training Plan?

Tempo run in marathon training plan

Incorporating tempo runs into your marathon training plan can significantly enhance your overall performance. Here are some key tips on how to seamlessly integrate tempo runs into your training regimen:

1. Identify Appropriate Days

Select specific days in your training schedule for tempo runs. Aim for a balanced distribution throughout the week to allow for adequate recovery between workouts. 

For example, you might choose to have tempo runs on Tuesdays and Fridays, giving yourself a day of rest or an easy run in between. 

2. Start Gradually

If you’re new to tempo runs or have limited experience, start by incorporating one tempo run per week. 

As you become more comfortable and adapt to the workouts, gradually increase the frequency to two or three tempo runs per week. It’s important to strike a balance between challenging yourself and avoiding overtraining.

3. Vary the Length and Intensity

Mix up the length and intensity of your tempo runs to provide variety and target different aspects of your training. 

Include shorter tempo runs, such as 20-30 minutes, for speed development and lactate threshold improvement. 

Longer tempo runs, lasting 45-60 minutes or more, can enhance your endurance and mental resilience.

4. Alignment with Race Pace

As you progress in your marathon training, consider aligning your tempo run pace with your goal race pace. This allows you to simulate the demands of the marathon and develop a sense of familiarity with your desired pace. 

However, be cautious not to consistently run at a race pace during every tempo run, as it may lead to excessive fatigue or plateauing.

5. Recovery and Adaptation

Ensure adequate recovery between tempo runs to allow your body to adapt and reap the benefits. Alternate tempo runs with easier or rest days to promote recovery and prevent overuse injuries. Listen to your body’s signals and adjust the intensity or volume of your tempo runs if needed.

Tempo Run Workout Examples

Tempo workouts running can be a key component of a comprehensive training plan, enhancing both your endurance and speed. 

But, it can somewhat be a challenge to incorporate it into a marathon training plan, especially for beginners. 

If you’re just starting out, use any of the following tempo run workouts below to get going:

1. Classic Tempo Run

2. Progression Tempo Run

3. Tempo Intervals

4. Hill Tempo Run

Final Thoughts

Tempo runs offer numerous benefits for marathon training. By incorporating these structured workouts into your routine, you can improve your anaerobic threshold, enhance your running economy, develop mental toughness and discipline, and increase your confidence as a runner. 

Remember to listen to your body, seek professional guidance if needed, and stay consistent in your training. Whether you’re a seasoned marathon veteran or a beginner embarking on your first 26.2-mile journey, tempo runs can be a valuable tool in your training arsenal.

To prepare adequately for your next marathon, you should consider using our ultimate marathon checklist. Using the checklist would put you ahead of the competition as it contains a checklist of activities you need to do before, during, and after the race.

Put your marathon training to the test by signing up for the OC Marathon Festival.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long should a tempo run be?

The duration of a tempo run can vary but typically ranges from 20 to 60 minutes.

2. How many minutes is a tempo run?

A tempo run typically lasts anywhere between 20 to 60 minutes, depending on your fitness level and training goals.

3. Are tempo runs aerobic or anaerobic?

Tempo runs primarily target the aerobic system, but they also have anaerobic elements due to the challenging pace. 

During a tempo run, you sustain a comfortably hard pace for a continuous period of time, typically 20 minutes or longer. This type of workout can help increase your anaerobic threshold, so your body adapts to performing at a higher intensity comfortably.