Thursday, January 6, 2011

Anatomy of a Training Run

Anatomy of a Training Run: the Tempo Run

When I trained for my first half marathon, I followed a training plan that I got from the Smart Coach tool at If you're not used to running lingo, those training plans can look like Chinese. 

At least that's what I thought when I saw "tempo" workouts on the plan. They looked something like this:
5 mi, inc Warm; 3 mi @ 9:17; Cool

wtf?!? (yep, I'm using texting abbrevs even though I have a full keyboard and all ten fingers at my disposal)

According to Running Times Magazine, Jack Daniels (hahaha, what a name!) popularized the tempo run and defines it as such: "A tempo run is nothing more than 20 minutes of steady running at threshold pace." Basically, you're running for extended mileage (3+ miles, depending on what you're training for) at a pace that is right at your anaerobic threshold (holy college flashback, batman!) which is the threshold where lactic acid starts to accumulate in your blood because you're exhaling more oxygen than you're taking in. Anaerobic = the way your cells metabolizes energy without oxygen. For most people, that  is the pace that corresponds to about 90% of your max heart rate, or a pace that is 25-30 seconds/mile slower than your current 5k race pace. Well, unless you're like me and like to leisurely jog a 5k.

So your tempo run is higher intensity exercise over a longer distance (in relation to speedwork and long, easy runs). Back to my "smart coach"...

5 mi, inc warm, 3 mi @ 9:17, cool just means to run a total of 5 miles, which include 3 miles at my anaerobic threshold pace (or 9:17 according to smart coach) plus a warmup and cooldown for about a mile each.

The tempo runs don't have to be that specific though. For me, it's going to be all about perceived exertion. My training plan says things like "5 mile pace" which will translate into running 5 miles at a "comfortably hard" pace - one that can be maintained for an hour. Maintaining your pace over the course of the mileage is the ticket here, which is where my trusty Garmin will come in. (I love you Garmin!)

Some benefits of tempo running are:
  • helps improving speed (over any distance, not just marathons)
  • trains your body to sustain speeds over longer distances
And here's why it works (directly from Runner's World):
"Tempo running improves a crucial physiological variable for running success: our metabolic fitness.Tempo runs do just that by teaching the body to use oxygen for metabolism more efficiently.The better trained you become, the higher you push your "threshold," meaning your muscles become better at using [lactic acid byproducts]. The result is less-acidic muscles (that is, muscles that haven't reached their new "threshold"), so they keep on contracting, letting you run farther and faster."

So, get a couple tempo runs into your training regimen and you're likely to see an improvement not only in your race time, but your overall fitness. I'm down with that!

How long do you run your tempo runs and at what pace? Do you enjoy doing them?

Peace, love & bagels,

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