Tempo and threshold run training techniques

You may have heard the term tempo or threshold run training, but what does it really mean? We explain what it means, what the benefits are, and how to do it to get the best out of your running.

Tempo and threshold run training techniques

Use these tempo training tips to enhance your running whether you're training for a 5K race or your next marathon.

What is tempo training?

Tempo or threshold runs are fast, continuous runs done in the middle of a regular mid/long distance run, lasting between 20 and 40 minutes. 
Find out more about these running training techniques by clicking links below.

The benefits of tempo training

Threshold or tempo running will help prepare your body for running at a faster pace for longer, as well as boosting what's known as your lactate threshold. This is the top end of your aerobic zone, the point before you go into anaerobic exercise (without oxygen). When you run anaerobically your legs can turn to jelly as lactic acid kicks into your system, and it's hard to keep going.

Training at threshold will increase your lactate tolerance, your capacity to exercise with high levels of lactate in the blood. Running at this pace will trigger adaptations in the blood, increase metabolic enzyme activity and improve muscle fibre recruitment. It uses carbohydrate for energy, and burns more calories than steady running.

How to do tempo training

A typical tempo run includes a warm up of 10 minutes, 15 to 20 minutes at tempo pace, and 10 minutes cool down. The pace is between 10k and half marathon pace, at around 85 percent of maximum heart rate, or seven to eight out of 10 on a perceived rate of exertion - or more simply at 'comfortably hard' pace - you can talk, but only a few words.

Tempo runs are quality runs and ideal to fit into a busy working day at lunchtime. Try these tempo workouts:

  • Warm up for 15 minutes, then do 10 minutes at half marathon pace, five minutes jog, and 10 minutes at 10K pace.
  • Or do three reps of 10 minutes at 10K pace with five minutes jogging between the reps.  
  • A longer interval session such as continuous 800s will also improve lactate tolerance.
  • Run 800m in the same minutes/seconds as your hours/minutes goal time for a marathon, so, if you're looking to run a 3:30 marathon, run your 800s in three minutes and 30 seconds.
  • Start with six and aim to build up to 10.
  • Make the recovery time the same as the time run at speed, ie for our example, 3:30.

Find your perfect pace

The key to getting the maximum benefit from your tempo workout is getting your effort level right. There are several factors you can use to determine the correct pace:

  • Go by feel: Tempo pace should be 'comfortably hard'. This may sound  like a contradiction but once you've perfected it you'll know what we mean. You're not fading away but at the same time you'd be happy to slow down.
  • Heart rate: If you run with a heart rate monitor, your tempo zone is about 85-90% of maximum heart rate

  • Use race pace: If you know what times you run for certain distances, you can add 30-40 seconds to your 5k pace or 15-20 seconds to your 10k pace (this is a very rough estimate)
  • Use the talk test: You should be able to say 3 or 4 words at a time but full sentences shouldn't be possible

The best way to get it right is to use a combination of these factors. Eventually, you'll be able to naturally find your tempo pace by feel.

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