Running in the 'Meda: Training tempo runs

Running in the 'Meda: Training tempo runs

Marty Beene

Since I started the conversation about training for Bay to Breakers in last week's blog post, I want to focus on one piece of that training puzzle this week: tempo runs.

I wrote about tempo runs in general last fall, so let's talk specifically about tempos to do for B2B training. First, though, contrary to what you might think, tempo runs are not just for "fast" runners. As I noted in that previous post, tempo runs are one way to keep yourself from getting into a rut - if running starts to seem too boring, you'll probably stop doing it. There's no need to let it get boring.

For B2B training, I recommend shooting for two kinds of tempo runs. One is at the lower end of tempo running, but for about the same distance as B2B or for the same time that you expect to run. The other kind is to run at your goal race pace, but for only about half the distance of the race itself. Both of these types of tempo runs have both physical and mental purposes.

The slower of the two tempo run types will help both your body and mind get accustomed to running the sustained higher effort level that you'll be doing on race day. Your body will actually adapt to this type of running by increasing your lung capacity and leg strength, as well as how your lungs and legs work together to more efficiently deliver oxygen to those legs.

A typical workout would be to go for a nine- or 10-mile run, starting with a mile of easy running. Speed up to that pace that is just a hair over conversational pace, and hold that for seven or eight miles (B2B is about seven and a half miles). Finish with a mile or so of easy running. This workout should feel only moderately challenging, and, of course, assumes that you have already built up your longer runs so that a run of that distance in general is not all that difficult.

If you aren't running that far yet, then use the amount of time you expect to take to complete the B2B race. Do about a half mile of easy running on either end of the run, but then simply run at the lower level tempo pace for your goal time. For example, my total goal time is 52 minutes, and my "just barely 'tempo' pace" is about 7:40 right now, so I would run for 52 minutes at that pace, which would be a little under seven miles.

The other type of tempo run would be done at around goal pace or about 15 seconds per mile slower than that. This should only be done (eventually - you have to build up to that distance) for about half the race distance, though, so between three and four miles.

Physiologically, doing this kind of tempo run will boost that boundary between a manageable pace and unmanageable pace. On race day, you will be trying to run the race just within the fastest pace your body can handle (i.e., where your body can keep up with processing the waste products your muscles produce). When you train like this, your body adapts to that faster pace, and that boundary pace becomes faster over time.

The challenge when you do this faster type of tempo run training is that when you look into the future, it may seem like you won't be able to accomplish your race goal because it feels too hard to run at that pace for half - or even less! - of the distance. This happened to me last week: I ran a two-mile tempo run at about 6:45 per mile pace, and it felt really difficult.

But you always have to remember that you are in a training mode right now, not a racing mode. You do workouts to build strength and speed, not to demonstrate what you have accomplished. You are also probably fatigued when you do it because of being in a training mode - last week was my toughest week of training in almost a year. When you do this kind of workout, you have to accept that it should feel harder than the race will feel. When the race comes along, you will be fitter because of your training, and, most importantly, will have incorporated rest into your routine prior to the race.

Only five weeks to race day!

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups, and registration for his Mountain Running Retreat in June is now live - visit his website for more information. Marty, who is shooting for a sub-52:00 time in Bay to Breakers this year, can be reached at