Workout of the Week: Sage Canaday’s 20-Minute Tempo Run

The 20-minute tempo run helps Sage Canaday prepare for a variety of distances ranging from road marathons to ultra distance trail races. Photo: Courtesy of The North Face Endurance Challenge Series

Regardless of what you’re training for, this short session will help improve your lactate threshold. 

Sage Canaday of Boulder, Colo., is a bit of a renaissance man in professional running circles. He has made a name for himself in recent years with his mountain, trail and ultrarunning exploits, but he also doesn’t like to stray too far from his road racing roots.

Trying to cater his training to a wide range of disciplines that includes long trail races, steep uphill ascents and bouts of fast road running, however, can be a bit tricky, but one of Canaday’s go-to workouts—regardless of what he’s getting ready for—is a 20-minute tempo run at lactate threshold pace.

“We mainly use this as a short, efficient workout to improve lactate threshold,” says Canaday, who also coaches runners through his website, Vo2maxProductions.com. “It can easily be adapted at the start of a training cycle as a good first quality workout because it is not a painfully intense hard effort. It is also short enough that it can be used between long runs and other more intense interval workouts without risking too much overtraining. For people training for the 10K to marathon, or even an ultra, this is a great way to dial into a comfortably hard effort and build stamina.”

The workout, which is preceded by a 20-minute jog to warm up, is a continuous 20-minute run at 85-88 percent of your max heart rate, which Canaday says translates to roughly 15 seconds per mile slower than your current 10K pace (or about 10-15 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace for those focused on longer distances). It’s followed by an easy 20-minute jog to cool down.

For optimal effect, Canaday suggests running this workout on a flat stretch of road, the treadmill or even on a track.

“With a level, even surface it is a good way to judge effort by maintaining a certain pace,” explains Canaday, who says the athletes he coaches will do some variation of this workout about three times a month. “The workout can also be adapted to trails and as a solid, uphill tempo run, where one would rely more on heart rate and effort rather than pace, of course.”

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