On Tempo Runs (or How to Be As Awesome as Justin Bieber)

by Kim on June 22, 2012

Last night after M went to bed, I did a nice 30-minute tempo run on the treadmill and loved it. The time fuh-lew by thanks to the speed changes, and I was surprised at how long I could go at a pretty high speed after working up to it slowly. I felt so awesome when I was done that I thought I was Justin Bieber.

jbYo, did someone say my name?

A tempo run is where you start at an easy jog, slowly build up to a "comfortably hard" pace, and then ease back down. For a 30 minute tempo run, you should start with 10 minutes easy running, build to 15 minutes of pace running, and then ease out for the last 5 minutes. (As opposed to interval runs, which involve short bursts of speed sandwiched between recovery jogs, or my favorite word of all time, the “fartlek,” which is an even less structured mix of different speeds and intensities.)

fartlekOh, running humor!! No one will understand this T-shirt-we’re such a secret society!!

This awesome Runner’s World article talks about how the Kenyans, the world’s model runners, love tempo runs like they love a good Bieber concert. The article says that tempo runs are the most important training tool for increasing speed in marathons and half-marathons, over interval or fartlek training, because tempo runs teach your bod how to maintain a somewhat-stressful-but-still-doable pace for a long distance rather than just surviving a balls-to-the-wall pace for a few minutes.

Tempo runs work by increasing your body’s “lactate threshold” (or “LT” for you Secret Society Runners), which is the amount of lactic acid your muscles can handle before they start checking out. (For more boring science info, see the RW article. It goes into gory detail about things like “hydrogen ions,” which is where my brain exploded.)

The exact details of how to design a tempo run are pretty fuzzy-how slow should my slow jog be? (The Kenyans probably ease into it with a nice luxurious 7 minute mile pace, so don’t ask them.) How do I adjust my speed along the way to get to my top speed at the right time? Should I try to go a certain distance within my allotted time? What’s the best Bieber song to jam out to while running?

At first, I got stressed out about all the details and briefly considered swapping out my tempo run days for some “drink beer by the lake” days. But luckily, my boy Hal Higdon soothed my fears just like Bieber would if he were my boyfriend:

A Tempo Run can be as hard or easy as you want to make it, and it has nothing to do with how long (in time) you run or how far. In fact, the times prescribed for Tempo Runs serve mainly as rough guidelines. Feel free to improvise. Improvisation is the heart of doing a Tempo Run correctly.” – Hal Higdon

“Improvisation” means “you are encouraged to totally botch this and then say you did it on purpose.” Yay! NO RULES! (Duh, the reason I took up running in the first place was because sports are so dang complicated-there are no fouls in running!)

I’m usually a dork about any kind of interval-esque training and would secretly prefer to stick to the same lame pace for every single run out of total laziness. This was ok in the past because my racing goal was usually “cross finish line” and the only real requirement for doing that is to increase your mileage. Now that I’ve crossed a few finish lines and I’m thinking more about PRing, the one-speed-fits-all approach is losing its luster.

Generally speaking, interval-esque training is awesome for two simple reasons:

  • Intervals make the time go faster.
  • Intervals make you go faster.

Now that I’ve experimented with tempo runs a bit, I’m annoyed that I didn’t discover them sooner. Which is the same way Justin Bieber feels about hair gel.

jb2If only there was a way to keep this out of my eyes without sacrificing its luxurious length.

During last night’s run, I also tried out my new headphones:


I bought these bad boys hoping they’d stay on my ears better. (Is it just me, or are standard headphones like these made for elves? They NEVER stay on my ears for more than 10 seconds at a time. And don’t even get me started on ear buds.)

So far, I’m pretty happy with the new phones. They stayed on the whole time during my run last night, even while I was head banging hard to Baby.

And speaking of killer music, my new favorite running tune is I Remember by deadmau5 (pronounced “dead mouse” not “dead maw 5” like my brain always insists):

Great beat AND it’s super long-two excellent qualities for a running song. (Hint: skip to 2:00 to hear the chorus.)

Looking forward to an amazing weekend-we’re not traveling for the first time in awhile! Which means I have no excuse to blow off the 7 mile run on my training schedule for tomorrow. Oh fartlek.

Do you use tempo runs in training?


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