Improve Your Running with Tempo Runs

Guys! I did not intend to go MIA but work was really busy last week (I’ve been saying that a lot, huh?) and I’ve been staying late and then have just been fried when I’ve gotten home. Plus, I had fun dinner plans on Monday, Thursday, Friday and again tonight! Anyway, I’ve been excited to share some of my running workouts.

Inspired by John’s running coach (Chuck Engle), I’ve been shaking up my running routine too. I’m not doing exactly what he’s doing because, well, I can’t – I’m not as fast as he is! But I’ve been making adjustments to my own running. I typically just do steady pace runs or treadmill fartleks or intervals without much thought or structure. I have the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and Raleigh Half Marathon coming up in April and I really want to train diligently this year.

One thing I used to be really diligent about in training was tempo runs. In fact, I can distinctly remember 6 years ago that I always did my tempo runs on Thursdays and Kanye’s song “Gold Digger” was on my playlist – ha!

What are tempo runs? Basically, tempo runs are runs done at a speed that is comfortably hard and last about 20-30 minutes.


Technically speaking, according to Runner’s World, tempo runs are done at “threshold pace, [which] is the effort level just below which the body’s ability to clear lactate, a by-product of carbohydrate metabolism, can no longer keep up with lactate production. … This pace is about 25 to 30 seconds per mile slower than current 5K race pace.”

How do I do them?
When I do tempo runs, I do a warm-up, usually about 1 mile, before I start counting the 20-30 minute portion of work. My last 5K pace was about 6:30 minute/mile (based on what I saw on my Garmin and the race course was messed up). Since I hadn’t done a tempo run in a while, I didn’t want to go out too crazy, so I listened to my body and ended up doing negative splits. By the end, I was close to where I should be for tempo runs – about 30 seconds slower per mile than my 5K pace. Easing into tempo runs like this is a good way to get your body used to the demands. 

  • 1 mile warm-up @ 7:47 (I probably should have done my warm-up at a slower pace
  • 1 mile at 7:19
  • 1 mile at 7:13
  • 1 mile at 7:08
  • 1 mile at 7:03
  • 1 mile cool down at 8:00

Why should I do them?
It’s important to train your body to hold a speed out of your comfort zone to work on getting faster at longer distances. Intervals are great for speed too, but you need to do tempo runs to train speed on distance. You can do these outside, or you can do them on the treadmill, like I did. If you do them on the treadmill, just be sure to add 1.0-1.5% incline.

This workout kicked my butt and I was huffing the last mile. You can still do this workout, even if you don’t run the same pace as me: Just look at your 5K speed and aim to run for 20-30 minutes at a pace 30 seconds slower than your 5K pace. And, always listen to your body. Ease into it with negative splits, like I did, if you need to.

Improve Your Running with Tempo Runs

Happy running!

Do you regularly do tempo runs?



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  • Sara @ LovingOnTheRun

    I LOVE tempo runs – well it is more of a love/hate relationship honestly! I look forward to being able to do them again when I get back into running here in a few weeks – ready to start training again 🙂

  • Melissa C

    This post was perfect timing. I need to run today and was dreading another boring treadmill run. This will keep it interesting and get me in shape for the Raleigh half marathon!

  • Livi

    this is awesome info! I need to get some speedier runs in after my half marathon!

  • Maria

    Ah, I love it when someone breaks down all this running talk! As someone who is just getting back into running, I appreciate the information. A tempo run sounds a little daunting to me, but I bet it’s one of those runs where you feel on top of the world afterwards. Now…if someone could explain what in the world a fartlek is, then I’ll be all set 🙂

  • Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs

    Definitely something I need to work on! Great post! 🙂

  • Lauren @ sassy molassy

    I definitely do them during marathon training and they are so effective at getting my overall pace faster for the marathon. I haven’t done one in a while though. Definitely wish I had a treadmill these days as we got a nasty bout of snow and ice here, which is really rare for Oregon. Luckily, I do have a bike trainer, weights and a yoga mat at home so there are plenty of other things I can still do when it’s nasty outside.

  • Sarah

    I absolutely love speedwork, mostly because the treadmill isn’t so dang boring that way! I’m shooting for a 1:30sih half, so I’ve really been paying attention to speedwork. I love the runner’s high that comes when I’m all done wiht a hard workout.

  • Amy @ {Life to the Full}

    I recently realized I’ve been slacking on the speedwork big time! Thanks for the tempo run tips. I’ve ran six full marathons, but am running my first half this spring and am really excited! Though, I’m wanting to focus more on speed and intensity in my workouts rather than high mileage.

    Great post!

  • pinkvong

    PERFECT TIMING! I have been running on a treadmill for years and have gotten sick of it. I have also tried running outside, but never felt “exhausted.” Maybe, it’s time for me to pick up speed. I will definitely try this.

  • Chicago Jogger

    This is great advice and a helpful explanation of tempo runs. I tend to just ‘go for distance’ when I run outdoors, and don’t pay close enough attention to my speed/pace, and on the treadmill I tend to run too many intervals. I’m definitely going to try a tempo run this week!

  • Kara

    I just stumbled onto your blog and am laughing because “Gold Digger” is still on my playlist! Ha! I don’t think I’ve ever done a tempo run–mainly just intervals if I can force myself out of steady state cardio at all.

  • Deanna Segrave-Daly

    Found your post/blog through Bean Bytes and so glad I read this – need to change things up on the treadmill and get stronger as runner – will be trying tempo runs tomorrow!