What is a tempo? There are many different definitions of a tempo run and to some extent the term tempo can mean different things to runners depending upon what they are training for, the level of experience and also how willing they are to push themselves!
For the sake of this post I am going to try and look at the tempo in a bit more detail in relation to the Half Marathon. The definition that I am going to offer in this instance is "the fastest pace that can be sustained for between 20 minutes and 60 minutes". The aim of the "tempo" also known as a "threshold run" is to enable runners to sustain a relatively hard pace for a prolonged period of time. As race day gets closer you may wish to increase the distance and time of your tempo whilst at the same time increase the speed that you do them.
With about four weeks to race day it may be that your training has hit a plateau. If so the tempo might just be the answer to unlock it.
An example of a tempo session might be:
1 mile easy jog as a warm up.
4 miles or 30 minutes of running at tempo/threshold pace
1 mile of easy jogging as a cool down.
What should a tempo feel like? The tempo is about sustained hard running. You should feel challenged, you may struggle to keep up a meaningful conversation (one or two word answers are a good indicator if someone is working at tempo pace) but you should also feel in control of the session...it should not see you fall by the wayside after two or three minutes gasping for air!
I have used the tempo run in my own training for a long time. I have two favourite routes that I use. The first is approximately a two lap four mile route. The second is an 8.5 mile out and back course. When I am training for shorter races such as 5km or 10km the shorter tempo is used on a weekly basis. Likewise if I am training for a race such as the Half Marathon I will use the longer tempo on a weekly basis. Over the years I have used these courses regularly so the times I am running on them are a great indicator of my current fitness.
There is a theory put forward by an american author called Matt Fitzgerald around making sessions, blocks of training and races personally meaningful. Matt advocates the use of the tempo run in building race fitness and encourages runners to use these sessions to get "race fit". Some of the key messages the author gives are around making the session mean something to you personally. The more personally meaningful the session is the more likely your brain will "allow" the body to perform to its physiological limit and the better you will perform.
The sessions I use as tempo runs have been a part of my training plans for quite a few years....I know every bend, junction, climb and have a "bank" of times that have been recorded at different points in my training programmes. In other words they mean something to me...they are not just another training run.
Generally nearly all runners can perform at a higher level in races than in training....have you ever wondered why that is? The simple answer, according to Matt Fitzgerald, is because we place a higher level of importance on the outcome.
It follows then that if we use key sessions such as tempo runs in our training, we build up to them, we repeat them regularly, we set targets and goals then because we are placing some importance on them we can push ourselves just that little bit more in training than we could before! Who knows that could be the key to achieving your target time on the 12th June!
It would be great to get a few comments or questions fired into the blog so feel free to post a question or two about your training, the race or any running related subject and I will see what I can do to help!