Three Workouts to Structure a Tempo Run (To Get Faster With Less Effort)

Welcome to the latest edition of 'Workout Wednesday' when each week I share a new running or strength training for runners workout! 

This week we are talking tempo runs! Usually, when the word tempo comes to mind, I start dancing to that old Beastie Boys song "Slow and Low That is The Tempo!" (I just Googled it, was that really 1986?) But tempo runs are actually the opposite of slow and low, they are relatively fast and high (intensity). 

A tempo run is performed at the upper end of aerobic capacity, that means you run as fast as you can maintain for a steady-state run, but it is not at an all-out sprinting effort. A tempo pace is comfortably hard but controlled.

This would be a 7-8 on the RPE (rate of perceived exertion chart) or about 75%-85% of max heart-rate if you are using a heart rate monitor. 

It may take some experimenting to find your tempo pace. If you go out too fast, you'll know it because you won't be able to hold the pace. If you're not going fast enough, it will feel easier than a tempo should feel. Remember we are aiming for 'comfortably hard.'

Three workouts to structure a tempo run (to get faster with less effort). Save to your favorite Pinterest workout board for later.

Three workouts to structure a tempo run (to get faster with less effort). Save to your favorite Pinterest workout board for later.

Here are a couple of workouts you can try to start to incorporate tempo runs into your weekly workouts.


Begin at a shorter distance, about two miles to start, and gradually build up over time by adding a half mile to your tempo runs every other week. As you progress, It's not about running faster but holding the tempo pace for longer distances. Only increase the pace of your tempo runs when your race results are faster, which indicates increased fitness, when your heart-rate is lower at the same pace, or the tempo pace starts to feel easier (no longer comfortably hard).


In order to start experimenting with your tempo pace and to develop the skill of running comfortably hard, you can break your tempo paces into intervals. Run for one mile at tempo pace three or four times with three-minute walk or jogging recovery between intervals. You progress in this workout by increasing the tempo distance and reducing the recovery periods.


Add tempo-paced segments into your medium to long run. Start by running two miles at an easy pace, then run three to four miles at tempo pace, then finish with two miles at the end with an easy pace. 

The benefit of training at a tempo pace is improved fitness and the ability to run longer distances at a faster aerobic pace with less effort, which translates to faster half marathon and marathon times. 


The mistake I see runners make is that they unknowingly run at a tempo pace for every single run of the week. If all of your runs are comfortably hard (or uncomfortably hard), then you won't allow your body the time it needs to recover and repair between workouts. I would recommend a tempo run once a week.

We get stronger and faster during the rest period after the workout, not during the workout itself. If we don't allow our bodies to recover from hard workouts, we won't ever see the full benefit (improvement) from our hard work and we risk overtraining and injury.

Run your easy runs slow and your hard runs fast(er). Make sure you have both easy-effort runs and hard-effort runs built into your training schedule. If you run your easy runs too hard and your hard runs too easy, you'll sabotage your true potential.

Incorporate one of these tempo workouts into your schedule next week and let me know how it goes. Excuse me while I relive my youth....slow and low that is the tempo.

Need help with all of this? I have an opening for online run coaching (including running, strength training workouts, and a weekly call) for only $45 a month. I promise this is the lowest price I will ever offer. Contact me if interested. 

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