The Tempo Run and Its Place in Weekly Training

August 24, 2016


Yeah, you guys saw Gweny rock the Olympic Triathlon this past weekend.  The commentators kept saying, "Well these guys are going to have get some advantage on Gwen Jorgensen on the swim or the bike cause they don't want her next to them on the run!"  And the reason for that as we all saw is that Gweny can kick your ass on the run!  That is the advantage you want to have and folks there's only two ways to do it: train 300 hours a week like Gwen or do some tempo running.

The International/Olympic distance is the worst of all worlds: too short to allow for the strategic pacing of a 70.3 and too short to go full blast like a sprint: no wonder its the world's standard for measurement of the triathlon distance.  But because of this the training can be very specific and there is good news there.  And bad news.

If you think of your training tempo as music, think Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" - go ahead go to Spotify or iTunes - we'll wait.  For you Beliebers listen to anything on his last album.  (Ironman athlete's your song would be "Stairway to Heaven" but played in reverse.  And why are you reading the stuff for the Olympics?)  And so we get to a training technique not much older than some of you millennials: Tempo or Threshold Running which should make you think, "Damn, the hard stuff."  That's the bad news.

The good news is that it's a "cozy" hard.

A Tempo Run extends your ability to perform at the threshold level or the level at which your body is producing lactate acid greater than it can move it - again this is not waste!  Threshold training helps your body use the lactate by-product better.  This pushes your Threshold level further out meaning you fatigue later.  You go harder longer.  Sounds good doesn't it!  As an aside about ten years ago 12 mile Tempo Runs were the rage in long course running and of course someone did a study on the runners.  Well one of the statistical observations was that men who do tempo runs tend to conceive daughters.  Hmm...I have a daughter.

So you're an Olympic Distance athlete.  How do we work a good tempo run into your schedule and what should be the pace and distance?  (This works for any type of triathlon distance but let them get their own info in there own sections!) 

Let's begin with the obvious that, yes, you're doing a 10K and not a 13.1 or 26.2 mile run.  But unless you've mechanically doped your bike that thing isn't moving on its own.  Running pays the rent everywhere so we need a distance which will push you to both a fatigue point and extends endurance for bike and run: there's not much point if you're at your threshold at mile two of your run.

Knowing you have jobs and interests outside triathlon you're not telling me about I'd like to recommend an 8 mile tempo run either Wednesday or Tuesday of your RACE PHASE part of the season.  This means starting about 8 weeks prior to your race and ending one week before (nobody gets prettier in that last week.)  Can you do Tempo Runs at other times?  sure but you'd be risking injury and my coaching fee.  You have to have a strong endurance base with sufficient muscle development absorbing impact.  Oh, there's no such thing as a light tempo run.

OK, Your Generic Tempo Run (You really should take one on one with a coach before trying a new training technique and buying him or her a beer):

  • 8 miles

  • Mile 1 - Conversational Pace, HRM: 1 to 2, 1 minute slower than race pace, SLOW!

  • Mile 2 - Gradual increase to high HRM 2, difficult conversation pace.

  • Mile 3 to 6 - HRM 3, 15 secs slower than than your  last 10K race (not your last Olympic 10K race!) - You should be really wondering why Dt is getting the money and you're out here about to chuck breakfast.  You should be near your HRM 4 Zone or if you're using Perceived Exertion Rating then about a 16 to 18 (considering running into traffic and getting hit to end the session.)  Fast but not race fast.

  • Mile 7 - 8 - bring it back down to 1 - 2 where you can converse comfortably.  If you don't have a friend dumb enough to do this with you then make sure you can sense the dramatic downshift in leg turnover.

Well that's a start.  Is there tempo cycling - sure but its called something else so Runner's Needless to say nothing pushes your needle to the red zone like the run.  It pays the rent.


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