Step-by-Step Guide to Pace Races

There is one workout every endurance runner must do. This bread and butter workout is an almighty pace. Pace runs are useful for just about every runner – from runners to marathon runners, paces are nearly ubiquitous.

In college, we ran at a cross-country pace when we trained for 8 kilometers. We also ran them during the base phase for indoor and outdoor runs (although I focused on 3K and 5K).

And, of course, they are indispensable in preparing long distance runners for a marathon and more. If you are not familiar with this type of workout, there are three popular definitions:

1. Comfortably hard. The pace is faster than “average”, but not quite “heavy”. If you are of a high training age and prefer to run by touch or with significant effort, this definition may be most helpful to you.

2. The speed at which you can race for an hour. Some runners have a pace that is the same or about the same as their 10K pace.

To use yourself as an example, take a look at my PR steps at multiple distances:

  • 10k PR (33:41) Pace: 5:25 per mile
  • 10 miles PR (54:50) Pace: 5:29 per mile
  • PR Half Marathon (1:13:38) Pace: 5:37 PM

If the “one hour racing pace” rule is correct, then my pace is approximately 5:30 – 5:35 am. And when I raced at that level, it was exactly the pace that I worked at in my tempo training!

3.85-90% of the maximum heart rate. If you’re training by heart rate (learn how to calculate your maximum heart rate here ), this is a valuable way to make sure you’re in the correct range for your running pace.

More science-minded runners know that tempo workouts are done at or near your lactate threshold. This is the rate at which you make the maximum amount of lactate your body can expel from your muscles and bloodstream. In other words, tempo runs are done at the lactate threshold, which is the fastest you can still aerobically run.

If you run faster, you will not be able to get rid of this lactate, and you will run beyond your threshold. You will then experience the familiar sour muscle burning sensation and fatigue felt at the end of a short, hard race. So the goal is to get past the lactate threshold and not run faster.

Why are Tempo Runs so useful?

There are two main reasons tempo training is so beneficial.

First, tempo runs raise your lactate threshold . As you run at or near your threshold pace, your body produces lactate more efficiently.

Exercise science has taught us that lactate threshold pace is a fantastic indicator of running performance. The faster you can run without losing lactate, the faster you can race.

But there is also an important psychological aspect: they are heavy, stressful and mentally exhausting. Tempo workouts will teach you how to manage your emotions when running gets tough .

As University of Colorado Boulder head coach Mark Wetmore said :

Long distance runners know a lot about pain, discomfort and fear. You will not leave in a good mood. The question is how much pain you can handle on days like this.

This is not a strategy. It’s just a blister and exercise to deal with the discomfort.

Tempo training is soulless for racing. They teach you to endure more discomfort and develop mental resilience . There is no skill more valuable to runners.

Two types of tempo runs

There are two main types of tempo workouts: running at a steady pace and repetitions at a pace.

Steady running pace

This workout includes one block of running at a tempo pace. It could be 20 minutes or 3 miles, but there is no break or recovery in the middle of the exercise.

A simple workout example looks like this: 7 miles with 3-5 miles at a pace. Here you have a 7 mile run with an average of 3 miles at pace.

Running at a steady pace should be limited to about 40 minutes – if longer, the effort becomes too hard, bordering on racing effort. Runners who have not been running at a pace (or who may return to running after injury or a long break from training) should start with 10-15 minutes of pace and then gradually increase the duration of the run.

Tempo repeats

This workout is similar to interval workout, except that it is done at your own pace. Recovery lasts 60-90 seconds and reps are usually longer.

For example, 7 miles: 3 x miles at pace with 90-second recovery from jogging. This workout is very similar to the sustained pace mentioned above, except that we include a short recovery after each tempo mile.

Reps at a tempo can be done a little faster than at a tempo, as recovery will help remove more lactate. It’s better to do this conservatively, though, than too quickly.

In many programs, you will go from repeating a pace to running at a steady pace. First, you should feel comfortable doing a certain run at a pace (say, 3 miles), and the secondary goal is to teach you to run 3 miles at a cadence continuously .

When to train at a pace

Most runners should do a tempo run every 1 to 2 weeks during a properly planned season .

Preparing for short runs of 5K or less? If so, tempo runs are best done early in the season during a basic workout. They help develop endurance, which helps to keep fit for a particular race later in the training cycle.

Getting ready for longer races of 10 km or more? In this case, tempo runs are best done in the middle and end of the season. Even though they are aerobic, they are either slightly slower or much faster than your target pace, so they are best used later in the training cycle.

Many of my runners train at pace for most of the season. As fundamental bread and butter training, it has significant benefits that accumulate week after week.

Expanded tempo variations

You might think tempo runs are a little boring – and they certainly can be – but with some imagination and strategic changes, tempo workouts can offer significant variety. One variation is called a tempo pattern and provides a great boost to strength and endurance.

Circuit training combines running and strength training. Here’s an example:

If you include strength work during your recovery, your heart rate will be higher than normal as you get stronger.

This is a fantastic workout for a wide variety of runners:

Another more advanced type of tempo runs called run with the purification of lactate. This is similar to running at a steady pace, except that you add a 30-60 second burst at a pace of about 5K or slightly faster every 5-8 minutes.

The surge introduces significantly more lactate into the bloodstream. When you return to the tempo pace, the body will be forced to flush out the lactate while continuing to work at the tempo tempo. This helps the body process lactate more efficiently, which ultimately helps to speed up the pace of your lactate threshold slightly.

Since this workout is quite strenuous, it is best to do it every 2-3 weeks in the middle and end of the workout phase.

Endurance awaits

Increasing your stamina is n’t too difficult. Follow a few guidelines and you’ll run faster, longer, and in no time:

  • Do a consistent long run every week
  • Focus on aerobic workouts such as pace runs
  • Gradually increase the mileage (but increase this volume strategically and carefully!)

With the right training, your running results will skyrocket after 3-4 months of regular training. And in 1-2 years ? Well, you hardly recognize yourself as a runner. Your current 10K pace could be your half marathon pace next year.

Train smartly and I have no doubt that your running will take you to a whole new level. If you need help getting up to speed, get my free beginner series here. I think this will be a turning point in your running career.

Step-by-Step Guide to Tempo Runs | Power running


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