What is and how to use Tempo Run?

Most coaches and runners have heard of threshold training and / or tempo run, used as a training method for various endurance disciplines. However, not everyone agrees when it comes time to bring this resource to the field. That is why, in this blog, we will try to provide a broad perspective on the subject, always from a theoretical-practical approach.

Tempo Run (TR) is also known as lactate threshold run (LT run), faster pace training, or threshold run. Renowned coach Jack Daniels mentions that threshold, or T-pace, is one of the most productive types of training that distance runners can do. In his words, training at this rate helps runners avoid overtraining and produces more satisfying workouts and better consistency.

Why would it be worth working at “threshold” intensity?

The lactate threshold pace (LT pace) is a very good physiological predictor of performance in distance running. Simply put, arguably, the LT pace is a reflection of how fast you can run before the lactate level begins to rise rapidly. TRs are performed in an intensity range close to the point where lactate is beginning to accumulate which, precisely, provides a stimulus to improve the LT pace.

In the words of Pfitzinger (2006), “By running at your current LT pace, you improve your LT pace, which leads to improved running performance. There is also a psychological benefit because the concentration required to sustain the LT pace develops mental toughness to compete».

One of the main effects of lactate threshold training can be seen in an improvement in the lactate profile. Figure 1 shows the effect of training on lactate threshold (6). After a lactate threshold training period there is a noticeable improvement in lactate levels at all speeds. In particular, the speed at which the lactate threshold occurs (basically the point at which there is an acceleration in lactate production) has improved by approximately 0.5km / h which translates into significant improvements in running performance. resistance.

Graph recovered from: http://training4endurance.co.uk

It is clear that we cannot think that only with this type of training we can improve the lactate profile of an athlete. These improvements are achieved from a well-developed program.

How can we know what the individual threshold rhythm is?

The lactate threshold rate / pace can be determined in various ways, with greater or lesser precision. A laboratory proposal is the incremental test protocol for the determination of lactate thresholds, VO2max and vVO2max proposed by the Australian Institute of Sport.

Lactate assessment., Federico Fader. Training Camp, X-Raid ~ BMW, Loxymed, Berlín , 2008.

In the field, other ways of estimating the LT pace are also used, such as the pace that can be maintained during a race close to one hour. Some approaches have also been made from the heart rate during a 15 km run (or 10 km for slower runners) looking for the heart rate zone that matches that rate, usually 80 to 90 percent of the maximum heart rate.

According to Jack Daniels, the proper pace for running at T-pace is close to 83-88% of VO2 Max, or 88-92% of vVO2 Max or HRmax.

How to dose tempo runs?

Although tempo runs have been used for over 20 years, scientific evidence does not indicate precisely how hard or how long a TR should last. Pfitzinger (2006) advises on the advantages of adapting these types of sessions based on the specific purpose of the work within the runner’s training program. The tempo run should be done in an intensity range from a little bit faster, to a little bit slower than the pace of LT, depending on the race distance you are preparing, and how many weeks until your target race.

Pfitzinger (2006) proposes three categories based on duration and rhythm:

  • 15 to 25 minutes at a slightly faster pace (3-6 seconds per kilometer) than the LT pace;
  • Classic times from 25 to 40 minutes at LT rhythm;
  • Efforts 40 to 50 (and occasionally up to 60) minutes a little slower (3-10 seconds per mile) than LT’s pace.

A typical session consists of a 20-minute warm-up, followed by a TR, and a smooth run. A physiologically similar (but easier psychologically) benefit can be obtained by dividing the tempo into so-called cruise intervals or LT intervals. For example, a 30 minute run time can be replaced by three 10 minute efforts, with a brief (2-3 minute) recovery walking between each.

Ed Eyestone (2007) describes some practical advice:

Sensations. Just run at a «comfortably hard» pace or at a speed you feel you could hold for an hour. (8 on a scale of perceived exertion of 10.)

Breathing. Check your effort by noting your stride-breath rate. For an easy step, most runners take three steps while breathing in and three steps while breathing out. The TR rhythm will normally put you in a rhythm of two steps when inhaling and one when exhaling, or vice versa.

Heart rate. Heart rate is complicated because a new runner could reach LT rate at 60 percent of maximum heart rate, while a well-trained runner could reach LT rate by 90 percent. Start using 80 to 85 percent of your maximum and adjust your heart rate or rhythm along with the other methods.

Running. Add 12 to 18 seconds per kilometer at a recent rate of 5K; 9 to 12 seconds at your 10-K pace. The fastest runners should add the highest value. Slower runners should use the lowest number to make sure they are running fast enough.

When to dose tempo runs?

Typically 20 minutes is sufficient, or three to five kilometers if the goal is general fitness or a 5-K run (Hanc, 2007). Runners who face longer distances must do longer sessions during their maximum training weeks: 6 to 10 kilometers for the 10-K, six to eight for the half marathon and eight to 10 for the marathon.

TRs have their role in a training program most of the year. They provide much-needed variety during base training, facilitating the transition to more race-specific workouts, and are an important component of training up to two to four weeks before the target race.

It is usual to perform a TR during a smooth adjustment race, but you have to take care and not run more than planned because these sessions are more effective when executed with the correct intensity. Similarly, avoid the common mistake of starting at too fast a pace, as it will cause the lactate level to rise rapidly and it is unlikely that you can keep up, resulting in a less effective training stimulus.

What kind of tempo runs?

Each type of TR has a place in training, for races from 5K to marathon, but the optimal mix differs depending on the distance of the target test (Pfitzinger, 2006). During preparation for 5K to 10K races, TR can be emphasized for 25 to 40 minutes (typically weekly) up to approximately 10 weeks before the target race. To increase the specificity of training for the test demands, it might be more efficient to enter TR for 15 to 25 minutes at a slightly faster rate than the LT rate for the past 10 weeks. For 15K to 25K runs, all three types of TR are useful and should be included in a training program, but the greatest emphasis should be on 25-40 minute efforts at the LT pace.

Not surprisingly, marathoners benefit most from TRs at the longest end of the spectrum. Both the classic 25-40 minute time in the LT pace and longer in the half marathon pace, are excellent preparation for the marathon.

It is clear that it would be too pretentious to exhaust this topic in a blog. In this sense, it should be clarified that, as we always mentioned, the individualization of this and any training methodology is always the norm.


  1. Carlos Sanchis. Protocolo de Test Incremental para la Determinación de Umbrales de Lactato, VO2max y vVO2max. 6 de octubre de 2014. Recuperado de: http://endurancegroup.org/blog/protocolo-de-test-incremental-para-la-determinacion-de-umbrales-de-lactato-voo2max-y-vvo2max-bp-357cfb26f6f593
  2. Ed Eyestone. Tempo Runs Done Right. 24 de octubre de 2007. Recovered from: http://www.runnersworld.com/workouts/run-the-right-tempo-pace-with-help
  3. Facundo Ahumada. Mitos del Entrenamiento de la Resistencia: ¿Existe el Umbral Anaeróbico?. 14 marzo de 2013. Recuperado de: http://endurancegroup.org/blog/mitos-del-entrenamiento-de-la-resistencia-existe-el-umbral-anaerobico-bp-o57cfb26d211db
  4. Jack Daniels. Threshold Training. Finding your T-pace. December 1, 2005. Recovered from: http://www.runnersworld.com/race-training/threshold-training
  5. John Hanc. Your Perfect Tempo. May 23, 2007. Recovered from: http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/learn-how-to-do-a-perfect-tempo-run
  6. Lactate Threshold Training. Recovered from: http://training4endurance.co.uk/improve-endurance/lactate-threshold-training/
  7. Laura Norris. TEMPO RUNS: ONE WORKOUT ALL RUNNERS NEED. January, 2016. Recovered from: http://www.thisrunnersrecipes.com/tempo-runs-one-workout-all-runners-need/
  8. Pete Pfitzinger, M.S. Tempo Runs, Essential Ingredients IV. June, 2006. Recovered from: http://www.runnersworld.com/workouts/tempo-runs

Original article written by Federico Fader for International Endurance Group: http://blog.endurancegroup.org/running-que-es-tempo-run-y-como-utilizarlo/

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