What is a “Tempo Run”?

Got a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I’m looking at your Boston Bound training program and see that Tempo Runs on Thursday call for runners to jog for a mile or two, then pick up the pace and hold it for 3-5 “minutes.” I am thinking this might be a typo and that the prescription should be 3-5 “miles”? Can you confirm?


Actually, 3-5 “minutes” is correct. I define a Tempo Run as a workout where the tempo of the workout (the pace at which you run) changes almost continuously. You begin easily, then as you warm up, you gradually (and “gradually” is the key) begin to accelerate until you reach a peak pace that is about 15 seconds slower than what would be your pace in a 10-K race. You hold that pace for the 3-5 minutes I prescribe, and it would be very difficult to hold that pace for 3-5 miles in a workout. Once over the peak you gradually allow your pace to slow, finishing at the same easy jogging pace from the start of the workout. Other coaches define a Tempo Run as one done at a continuous pace, what I might call a “race pace” or an “FCR” for Fast Continuous Run. They have their good reasons, but as long as you are using one of my training programs, you probably should accept my approach, not theirs. Keep in mind that a Tempo Run can be one of the easiest runs of the week or one of the hardest depending on how you approach it. In my book Run Fast, I devote nearly an entire chapter to “Speed Play,” which includes Tempo Runs as well as Fartlek, with its continuous changes of pace. There’s a lot to learn in this sport of ours, but don’t get too hung up when us coaches throw different terms at you.

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 more than a quarter 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 here'or on'his website.