The tempo run is one of the best training sessions a long-distance runner can do.
If you’re planning to do an endurance race such as a marathon or half-marathon and have hopes of performing well, then you need to train effectively and make sure your training reflects the demands of the event. One of the best ways to do this is to incorporate tempo runs into your training.
A tempo run is a sustained effort at or just below threshold intensity and lasts anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours, depending on the specific event you are training for. Here are five reasons why this workout is one of the best training sessions you can do.
Because they are longer efforts, tempo runs can help you set realistic pace goals for your marathon, half-marathon or other event. The longer you can hold a strong pace for a length of time similar to what you’ll attempt on race day, the more confident you’ll be that your pace goals are within your grasp. On the contrary, these runs can also help bring you back to reality and help you set more realistic pace goals if your training is not going as well as you hoped.
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If you ask most runners, they might tell you a tempo run can be irritating and uncomfortable. This is both good and bad. It’s bad because a tempo run certainly is a tough session mentally, but it’s good because a tempo run will build an athlete’s mental skills, allowing him or her to focus better on pace, intensity, technique and the ability to juggle all of these during the tougher portions of a race. Make no mistake, this is a skill. Just like any other skill, if not practiced, it becomes rusty. After just a few sessions, an athlete can make dramatic improvements in this area alone.
There is no workout more race-specific than a tempo run for marathons and half-marathons. Race day is not made up of intervals, it is a continuous effort, so your training must reflect your ability to run continuously and do it effectively. This is a specific fitness and should be respected in training.
If you start with a shorter tempo run and build the time you run over many weeks, you will have a great opportunity to track your progress and increase excitement, motivation and confidence — all important but underrated training and preparation components. Training is hard enough, so getting something positive in return for the hard work is important. Tempo runs are an easy and objective way to get feedback on how your fitness is progressing.
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The Missing Link
Most athletes don’t like the tempo run, so they avoid it. Since it is perhaps the best and most specific workout for endurance races, if you’ve been avoiding the tempo run, it’s likely the missing link in your training and race performances. Try to do a tempo run workout once a week for eight weeks starting about 10 weeks out from your race.