The Thursday Runs: Tempo

photo (37)

As shown in my marathon training plan there are numerous types of runs used to prepare for a race. In this series I’m breaking down the types of runs, what they mean and their purpose, and also talking about other important such running things.

This week I’m talking about tempo runs. These happen once a week and are my first run back after my long run (per the schedule). From John Stanton and the Running Room (Toronto Waterfront Training Program):

These workouts are intended to be near the lactate threshold pace, 80%. MHR

  • They are designed to improve the lactate threshold for the athlete, in other words – to help people move faster

  • Tempo workouts should stress the body at a specific intensity level – not more, not less. The workout should ideally take place on smooth, flat terrain under relatively calm weather conditions.

  • Tempo workouts are typically of 20-30 minute non-stop duration with a warm up and cool down added. Alternatively, tempo repeats can consist of a few shorter sets of tempo intervals with a short rest between them. In this way, tempo workouts can be increased to 30-50 minutes overall.

  • Experience has taught that optimum benefit is gained by staying within these ranges. More does not necessarily mean better and in this case, overstress and even injury could be the result.

John Stanton recommends running with a heart rate monitor (HRM). When I started training for my first half marathon in 2010 I always used my Garmin and HRM; however, I found it to eventually get in the way of my training. I wouldn’t just let myself run. I’d check my watch for pace and heart rate every 30 seconds, which certain isn’t a good way to run.

After making the switch to RunKeeper this year, I feel my runs are much more consistent; however, I am missing out on the feedback from the HRM. I do my best to check my pulse (when I remember) so I have an idea of my resting and active pulse so I know if I’m training effectively.

The simplest way to determine maximum heart rate is to take 220 – your age. For me this would be 190 bpm (beats per minute). For the tempo training runs, my heart rate should be around 152 bpm (80% of 190) for the duration of the run.

A more accurate way to determine maximum heart rate is to take 70% of your age and subtract that from 208. In this case my maximum heart rate would be 187 and my target zone for tempo runs is 150 bpm. Honestly? Not much of a difference between the two.

So, why is heart rate so important?

Take a look at this house (from John Stanton’s marathon training program)

heart rate zones

For the remainder of my marathon training, I’ll be running one tempo run per week, all 6km at a 5:44-6:00/km pace. These runs are meant to be quite challenging and are working to increase my threshold and improve my cardiovascular fitness.

For interest sake, I took my heart rate at 10 minute intervals on my last tempo run (5:17 average pace) just to see where my heart rate was sitting. (Yes, this was quite a bit faster than the recommended 5:44-6:00/km pace, but this is where I felt comfortable and where my heart was optimal, I expect the remainder of my tempo runs will be around the 5:20-5:30/km pace).

  • 10 minutes: 108 bpm
  • 20 minutes: 144 bpm
  • 30 minutes: 150 bpm
  • after 5 minute cool down: 94 bpm
  • resting heart rate: ~54bpm

This tells me a pace of 5:17/km is about where I should be at for a tempo run as it puts me in my ideal heart rate zone, and not the 5:44/km pace as stated by my training plan…

Also included, my tempo stats from this week.

tempo run

5k splits

Check out the table below for a sampling of tempo pace times for both a half and full marathon depending on your goal finishing time.

Half Marathon

  1:45 2:00 2:15 2:30 To complete
Tempo 5:00 6:15 6:36 7:17 8:37


  3:45 4:00 4:15 4:30 4:45 5:00
Tempo 5:24 5:44 6:05 6:26 6:47 7:07


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8 thoughts on “The Thursday Runs: Tempo

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