The Soggy Sock: Tempo Variations

Feb16th 2023
Written by Christina Schultz

If you’re new to the runners’ world and haven’t heard the term “tempo” thrown around yet you probably will soon. If you are a veteran runner and still wonder what we truly mean when we say “tempo” you are not alone.

Tempo runs are both a common and integral part of any runner’s training program yet it’s poorly defined.

Most accurately, “Tempo” is an umbrella term. 

Here are several terms that may be under this umbrella depending on your coach’s background

Keep in mind, most coaches’ working definition of tempo runs between Half marathon pace and threshold on this scale.

  1. Marathon Pace- The pace at which you predict you could sustain for a marathon
  2. Half marathon pace- The pace at which you predict you could sustain for a half marathon
  3. Tempo- A pace you could hold for 50-60mins. Usually performed over a 40 min run or in intervals of 10-20 mins
  4. Threshold- A pace you could hold for 30-40 mins. Usually performed over a 20 min run or in intervals of 5-10 mins
  5. Critical velocity- A pace you could hold for 12-20 mins. Usually done in intervals of 3-5 mins

The goal is to help your body become more efficient in clearing lactate and working under higher levels of blood lactate. Most people switch to requiring glycolysis for energy at around 60% of their VO2 max. In well-trained individuals, this can be closer to 75%. So most tempo variations will work in this range with varying effort levels and time intervals.

It doesn’t take a ton of experience to recognize this is a huge variety in pace and effort levels that can. This is why it’s important to have a clear idea of what your coach means when they assign you a “tempo” run to make sure you are working at the intended effort level.

This is also another excellent reason to not blindly follow a workout you see someone post online, especially with no connotation as to what intensity the intervals may be at and what point in the cycle this workout is being used. Generally speaking, longer slower type tempo intervals are used earlier on and short faster intervals are used later on- but this is not a hard-set rule at all.

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About the Author: Christina Schultz

Christina Schultz graduated with a degree in exercise science from Florida Atlantic University. She was a captain for the cross country and track teams at the University. She went on to earn a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of St. Augustine. While at St. Augustine, she was a head high school cross country coach and distance track coach at a local high school. During this time she became a certified strength and conditioning specialist in order to enhance her abilities to treat athletes and improve their performance.

Christina moved from Jacksonville, FL to Greenville, SC with her dog Rosie to help keep our community active. She continues to run in her spare time and is enjoying exploring the city and hiking.

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