Race season is in full swing, but even if you don’t intend to cross a finish line, training as if you do could net you better runs and a higher calorie burn. Enter tempo training — one of the tricks competitive runners use to increase distance and speed. For you, tempo training can help you push your intensity without emptying your tank. “That means run at a ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ pace,” says Ironman coach and triathlete Tom Holland, author of “The 12-Week Triathlete: Train for a Triathlon in Just Three Months.” “Tempos are longer intervals done at a moderately difficult intensity, and they help train your body to work harder and burn more fat.”
Tempos are also sometimes called ‘threshold runs,’ because they help increase your lactate threshold — which, in plain terms, is the point your muscles start to fatigue during exercise. Having a higher lactate threshold allows you to exercise more and with more energy.
Sold. Now, how do you start?
Fortunately, tempos are pretty easy to slip into your usual running routine. You can do them on a road, trail, track or even on a treadmill. As with any workout, you’ll want to start with an easy warmup. This can include dynamic stretches and 5–10 minutes of jogging at an easy pace. Next, pick up your pace for 5–10 minutes, depending on your fitness level, and push yourself. “It should feel like a 6 on a 1–10 scale,” Holland says. “It’s a few gears above easy, but not an all-out sprint.”
One way to check if you’re running hard enough is to see if you can say a few words, but only a few. “How are you?” should do the trick. If you can say more, you’re not challenging yourself enough, and if you can’t speak one word, ease up!
Next, slow to a jog for 2–3 minutes. This is what Holland refers to as a ‘conversational pace,’ which means you can speak in full sentences while you jog. Repeat the cycle 2–5 times, depending on the length of your push.
As your fitness level improves, increase the length of your tempos. If you’re running 5-minute segments, for example, add a minute each training session, working up to 10-minute bursts. Make sure to still include 2–3 minutes of ‘active’ rest between tempo sets, which allows your muscles to recover. Finish your workout with an easy 5-minute walk.