How to Do Tempo Runs for Marathon Training

I’d say tempo runs are the favourite of our clients.

If many people avoid intervals, they love tempo and long runs (well, about as much as you can love killing yourself by pounding your feet on the pavement over and over again – ahem – I mean springing lightly along the road or path enjoying the outdoor sounds of nature…?).

A tempo run is often perceived as an easier run because it’s shorter, and you can (once you’ve done your warm-up mile) keep a pretty steady pace.

To get the target benefit from a tempo run, though, you’ve GOT to keep an eye on your pacing.

(are you new? If this is the first article you’ve seen, just as an fyi this is the 5th in our marathon training series of articles. If you’d like to get the series from the beginning, click here to sign up and you’ll get an email every week with a new piece on a different aspect of marathon training.)

The Point of the Tempo Run

The point of the tempo run is to increase your lactate threshold.

What is your lactate threshold?

Well, it’s the point at which you have too much lactic acid in your muscles for them to function effectively. (Too much lactic acid in muscles makes it harder for them to contract).

You see, at any given point a proportion of your energy is derived aerobically (from oxygen in your muscles) and anaerobically (which produces lactic acid, a byproduct of anaerobic energy creation).

You reach your lactate threshold when your body builds up more lactic acid than it can effectively get rid of, which affects performance and makes it a lot harder to run.

Training near your lactate threshold for an extended period of time (usually 30-45 minutes) helps make your body more efficient at removing the lactic acid at higher speeds. It also raises the speed at which your body can create energy primarily aerobically.

Your Pacing

How can you tell if you’re running at the right pace for a tempo run?

A good rule of thumb is using the same pace as your good 10k run.

Or you can go off of perceived effort, which should be comfortably hard, building up to hard.

Your Action Item

If you’re training for a marathon, we’re making the (fairly safe) assumption that you’re probably already consistently running a tempo-type run.

Our challenge to you is – are you running it hard enough?

Check your pace, either against your 10k pace or your perceived effort level, the next time you’re on a tempo run (remember, not including your warm-up).

If it’s not where it should be, make the adjustment. Your muscles will thank you!


This post is part of our 3m2m marathon training series. If you’d like to receive these straight to your inbox, click here to sign up and you’ll get an email every week with a new piece on a different aspect of marathon training.

This post has been drawn from our 3 Months to Marathon First Marathon Running Guide and Repeat Marathon Running Guide, by Katherine Creighton Crook with Michel Glendinning from Thrive Fitness. Click on the links if you’d like to purchase the guides, or click here to purchase from Amazon Kindle.

If you’d like to browse the 3 Months to Marathon range of packages including massage and PT sessions, you can visit 3m2m.co.uk.

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