Workout of the Week: Alan Culpepper’s Track Tempo Run

Alan Culpepper is one of the most consistent marathoners the U.S. has ever seen. He finished fourth at the 2005 Boston Marathon (above), won the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials and finished 12th at the Games in Athens. His personal best is 2:09:41. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Three years ago I had the honor of being coached by my colleague Alan Culpepper as I prepared for the Los Angeles Marathon. At the time, it was my third 26.2-miler and first time training to race the distance in almost four years.

As you might expect, there’s a lot to be learned from a two-time Olympian, but perhaps the most important lesson training under Alan reaffirmed for me was that there are no secrets or magic workouts. A successful training block is all about consistency and progress over the course of many weeks of preparation.

One of my bread-and-butter benchmark workouts during the L.A. buildup was a 6-mile tempo run on the track—yes, lap after lap around a 400-meter oval—that I did about once every two weeks. While most of my faster workouts were assigned a specific pace or a target effort level, this was the only one where he had me monitor my heart rate. Alan called this session an AT (short for anaerobic threshold) Tempo, and the goal was to keep my heart rate at roughly 80-85 percent of my max, which for me translates to 170 bpm.

In fact, Alan wrote in my online training log: “6-mile AT on the track: The goal is to run 1/2 marathon race effort and run as even as possible. Keep your HR around 170 and let the pace be what it may.”

By keeping the workout environment consistent and focusing on heart rate, Alan explained, it was easy to track progress. And, sure enough, as I became fitter, I was able to run faster at the same average heart rate. By the end of my 12-week training cycle, I ran 6 miles at 170 average heart rate 12 seconds per mile faster (5:37/mi) than when we first started out (5:49/mi). And, most importantly, I ran an evenly split 2:36:31 at L.A., right at my goal pace of 6:00/mi.

Here’s how to do Alan Culpepper’s Track Tempo Run:

— Warm up with 2-3 miles of easy running, drills and strides.

— Run 3-6 miles (12-24 laps of an outdoor track) at 80-85 percent of your max heart rate (or roughly half-marathon race pace)

— Cool down with 2-3 miles of easy jogging.

RELATED: Coach Culpepper: Know Your Tempo

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