Tempo runs are a fantastic way to build confidence as a runner.

The definition of a tempo run often differs from running coach to running coach…

Tempo runs help you to increase your anaerobic threshold, which helps your body adapt to running at a faster pace for a longer period and build your mental endurance.

In this post, I am going to delve into what a tempo run is for me and how I use them in my training plans and coaching…

Before digging into why we do them and who should do them, let’s start at the beginning…

What Is a Tempo Run?

A tempo run is a training run that is close to, or a little bit quicker, than your marathon race pace. 

Tempo runs are done at what is also known as your lactate threshold. 

At your lactate threshold pace, you can run for a prolonged period without increasing the lactate levels in your blood.

These tempo workouts will typically be run in your peak training block. The length of your tempo run will be dependent on the distance of the race you are training for.

A great way to think of tempo runs is in terms of music…

A tempo run would be the equivalent of an uptempo song. It simply means that there is a little bit of energy in the beat of the music and that is exactly what a tempo run should be.

A tempo run shouldn’t be one of those runs that leave you spent…  because you’ve put all your energy into it. It should be slightly faster than the pace you’re used to. 

It’s one of those runs that build confidence and should leave you feeling strong and fit.

Now that we know what they are…let’s look at why we need to do them.

Purpose Of Tempo Runs

There are two main reasons why you should do this type of speed endurance workout. 

I’ve alluded to the first and that is that it should give you a lot of confidence heading into your goal race. 

The second is that it is a great opportunity to test your nutrition strategy for race day.

Confidence and mental toughness play a huge part in being a successful runner and reaching the goals you’re training for. 

When following the Coach Parry training philosophy, the vast majority of your training runs will feel very easy.

In a big training block, it’s easy to feel like you’re not pushing hard enough on the long and easy runs. You may also feel that you’re struggling with the harder, higher-intensity sessions.

A tempo effort is a fantastic way to put your training into practice. They’re an opportunity to feel what it feels like to perform at your best.

Tempo runs help you build mental strength, and should leave you feeling energized and excited.

The second reason to do one of these threshold runs is to practice taking in nutrition closer to the intensity that you plan to race at.

Often on our slow long runs, it’s very easy to eat, take a gel, or drink while you’re running. But as soon as you lift the intensity, drinking, taking a gel, or eating food and chewing may become a challenge. 

This happens when you’re running and breathing a little bit harder than you normally do.

In your regular long runs, you may be able to eat solids but it is only in the tempo run that you may realize you aren’t able to chew, so a gel would work better. You can only figure that out by running slightly faster and that is why tempo runs are great.

A question that I get asked quite often is about the distance of a tempo run…

How Long Your Tempo Runs Should Be

If you’re training for 10km your tempo run should be between 4km and 6km, if you’re training for a half marathon your tempo run should be between 7km and 12km (4 and 7 miles) while for a marathon they can range between 15km and 25km (8 and 14 miles).

The length of these sessions is dictated by two things. 

  1. The distance of the race you’re training for.
  2. Your running ability.

Your running ability will dictate which end of the distance range you should be on. If you are a faster runner you will be on the higher end of the scale.

Let’s look at what that actually means…

When I look at how long a tempo run should be, both of these two considerations work hand in hand.

For this example, I am going to use someone who is training for longer races, let’s say a marathon. I normally don’t prescribe tempo runs for athletes who are not in the top 5 to 10% of the field.

Tempo runs are a regular feature for runners who run a marathon in under 3 hours. I use them sparingly for runners who can run a marathon in under three and a half hours.

For runners who fall outside of the 3:30 marathon range, I get them to run a half marathon, at a marathon pace, as their tempo session in a peak training block.

When You Should Be Doing Tempo Runs

The timing of your tempo run within a training block is crucial.

If placed too early, you won’t get the full benefit of the tempo run. Too late and it could have an adverse effect on your performance on race day

In the 12-week peak block of training before your race, there should be 2 tempo runs. The first one is halfway through the 12-week block, at 5-6 weeks, and the second one 3 weeks later, 3-4 weeks from your goal race.

Both of those tempo runs are opportunities to build your confidence and test your nutrition while running at close to the race pace.

Following on from the point above, the frequency of these tempo runs is also important…

How Often Should You Do Tempo Runs?

Doing too many tempo runs in a peak training block can have a negative impact on your training. 

Too many and you could end up running too many of your training sessions too hard. 

Too few and you don’t get the benefit of doing tempo runs in the first place

If you are doing long tempo runs as stand-alone training sessions, then the frequency sweet spot is approximately 3 weeks apart.

Anyone can do a tempo run as part of their training, but I find the runners that get the most benefit out of doing them are the more gifted athlete.

Tempo Runs On A Treadmill?

You can absolutely do a tempo run on a treadmill.

The most significant advantage of doing a tempo run on a treadmill is that when you know what your ideal tempo or marathon race pace is, you can dial it in on the treadmill and you just bang it out.

Being on the treadmill allows you to hold a really good, consistent pace.

Any time there is a reason you can’t run outdoors,  poor weather, safety, or the need to watch your kids while you’re training, run on the treadmill.

A treadmill tempo run is going to win over not doing the session every single time.


With a passion for high performance sport – Lindsey Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches. Having led a team to the London, Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Gold Coast & Birmingham, and coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, Lindsey has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level and thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

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