What Is A Tempo Run? How To Do It.

For the last week I have been sitting down and creating a lot of marathon and half marathon training plans for runners and walkers of all levels. It really is an exciting time.  Many athletes are getting ready for their first ever marathon and for some it is their first race ever.  Others have been running for awhile and are looking to achieve a new PR.  Getting to be the one who concocts the magic potion to help them get to the finish line of their race is pretty exciting stuff.


One type of run that many of the runners will be adding to their weekly running routine is the tempo workout.  However, I have found that a lot of athletes are unfamiliar or just not exactly sure what a tempo run is.

The tempo run is often referred to as threshold training.  It may be easier to think of it as a pace run or even a marathon pace run if you are training for that distance.  To do these types of runs it often helps to use a pace chart to determine what your goal pace should be for a given distance.  Your pace will vary by distance so you can’t plan on using the same pace you ran your half marathon in order to finish a full marathon.  There are several great pace tools available online that can help you to determine just how fast or slow you should be running.  If you are interested in finding one I would go to RunnersWorld.com.  For some tempo workouts you may want to run at a faster pace than that of your goal distance.  For example, some marathon training plans may call for a half marathon pace run for 30 minutes.

Typically these runs are swift and held at a planned pace for approximately a half hour but sometimes can last up to an hour.  Generally speaking you will be running at a pace you can carry on for up to an hour even if you aren’t actually planning to run that long.  This is typically slower than your 10K race pace but faster than your what you would run a half marathon at.  However that is not always the case and depends on both the race distance you are training for and the level of your training program.  For novice athletes running the marathon distance this may simply be a 30 minute run at their planned marathon paces.

When you do a tempo run it is important to build in a warm up as well as a cool down into your plan.  Your warm up can be either time or distance based.   For example you can do a 15 minute or 1 mile warm up at your easy pace.  The same plan would follow at the end of your tempo training session with a cool down of 15 minutes or 1-2 miles.

Tempo training runs are great for building up your cardiovascular system.  It helps train your body to utilize oxygen more efficiently as well as get rid of the lactic acid and carbon dioxide faster.  This will lead to an overall improvement in your endurance.  It is also great for improving your running form.

This type of training is not easy.  It is meant to teach yourself both mentally and physically to sustain a faster pace for certain periods of time.  For many athletes this can be especially helpful if they are having fears or concerns about holding a certain pace for an upcoming race.  Tempo runs can be used as a great dress rehearsal to practice running at low levels of discomfort and pushing through for an extended amount of time.  You might find this to be reassuring that you are capable of holding your prescribed pace.  Just make sure you don’t use this as a time trial for your race.

For novice runners you can start out doing 20-30 minute tempo runs as part of your training, while more advanced runners can work up to doing 60 minutes or more of tempo training in a session.  These can be great for adding to your race training plan as you get closer to race day or even do them before you begin your training plan as part of your base building.


Just remember that it is best to do this type of training on a flatter surface as it is hard to maintain an even pace on hilly or mountainous areas.

Happy running!

33 thoughts on “What Is A Tempo Run? How To Do It.

  1. That really is helpful. I’ve done tempo runs before, but I don’t think I’ve totally understood the reasoning. Personally, I hate workout runs, but I like the results of them. Thanks for posting!!!

  2. I really like this post. I’m starting to work with a coach here and we were discussing tempo runs. I’ve been doing this kind of training but not really calling it that, but it’s neat to read about what paces I should run tempos in and for how long.

  3. thank you, i know I want(need) to do some of these and you helped clear up how and what they are. im training for my first marathon and will check out the runners world time thingy too. really helpful post 🙂 x

  4. I think tempo runs are my favorite training runs. They are hard, so I feel like I’m pushing myself, but they are short enough that I can power through without giving up like I tend to do on a long run day if things are going poorly.

  5. Great description and advice!! I’ve definitely found it’s much easier to do tempo runs on flatter surfaces vs. my normal hilly route!! Great!! XOXO!!

  6. Very useful information – I have trouble maintaining to one pace when I’m on the road so I think this is the perfect treadmill workout (now I just have to force myself to get on the treadmill.)

  7. I struggle with tempo runs…and feel like I’m still in the “learning” stage of running even thought I’ve done a handful of 5k’s 10k’s and one half. always learning, thanks for sharing !

  8. These are the types of runs I dread the most – such a workout. When you say a 30 minute tempo does that include warm-up or is that the amount of time you should run at your target pace?

  9. great post! for some reason I could never really figure out what a tempo run is. It’s often explained in a bunch of different ways but the way you explained it made sense.

  10. Tempo runs are one of my least favorite types of runs, but I know they’re good for me. I want to run Nike Women’s Half in October and will definitely be incorporating tempos into my weekly training plan!

  11. Thanks for this explanation! I have done one or two during my training plan but don’t regularly incorporate tempo runs!

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