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How You Should Run A Tempo Run

BY Hal Higdon

A Tempo Run is designed as an intuitive workout, a free-form workout, and is best done in the on unmeasured trails.

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As I was doing a Tempo Run this morning, I wondered: Why are Tempo Runs prescribed in minutes rather than miles? Just curious.


Tempo Runs are prescribed in minutes, because I want runners to get away from roads with markers every mile and free their minds. A Tempo Run is designed as an intuitive workout, a free-form workout, and is best done in the woods on unmeasured trails, or along the beach, or on a golf course (early, before the golfers arrive) or, if on the roads, hopefully a road that has gone unmeasured by the bean-counters (God love them) of our running world.

Not all coaches define Tempo Runs similarly. For some, it is a run over a medium distance at a fast tempo, a pace that would get you into the 85-95% heart rate range. But I focus more on change of tempo: a gradual build-up to near peak speed in the middle, then an equally gradual slowdown. I don’t want runners looking at their watches; I don’t want them counting miles. I prefer that the workout be not to strictly defined. Go with the flow and finish refreshed rather than fatigued.

As for time, usually it takes at least 30 minutes to achieve the build-up and slow-down that are part of a Tempo Run. And I’m not sure there is much advantage to continuing a Tempo Run much past 45 minutes, although some of my advanced programs do suggest pushing up to 60 minutes at the very end of a multi-week program.

Thus, how many miles you cover never fits into the equation.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.