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Q&A: How Should a Tempo Run Feel?

What should a “tempo” run feel like? How can I tell I’m not going too fast or too slow?

A tempo run should be “comfortably hard.”  If you are unsure of just how hard “comfortably hard” is, I recommend using any of the following three methods to pace your tempo run:

1. Perceived Exertion: A rating of how hard you feel you are running. “Comfortably hard” should be a pace slightly more than moderate, but not yet hard. Typically, you should be able to keep this pace for an hour. Another clue is your breathing: During a tempo run, your breathing should be audibly loud where conversation is not possible.

2. Calculated Heart Rate Percentage: Your heart rate during the run should be around 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR). To calculate this figure, take (206 – half your age – resting HR) x 0.85 + resting HR. For example, if you are 40 years old with a resting HR of 55 beats per minute, your equation would be: (206 – 20 – 55) x 0.85 + 55 = 166 BPM.

3. Racing Pace: I would recommend basing your tempo pace off of your best 10K pace. From here, run about 10-15 seconds slower per mile.

When you perform a tempo run, you are improving your body’s ability to delay lactic acid buildup in your body, thereby increasing your lactate threshold. A key indicator of lactic acid buildup is muscle cramping and fatigue. Incorporating a tempo run into your program will train your body to run at a faster pace for a longer duration, and it will positively impact the psychological aspect of running longer distances.

A basic tempo run could include a 10- to 15-minute warm-up, consisting of a light jog and mobility exercises, followed by a three- to six-mile run at about your 10K pace, and finish with a 10- to 15-minute cool-down.


Jason Mayerhofer

Jason Mayerhofer, PT, MSPT, MTC, CSCS, SFMA, USATF-1 is a clinical supervisor at the Hospital for Special Surgery Site Affiliated with American Express. He was a sprinter, long jumper, and triple jumper in high school and has completed countless 5K and 10K races. In 2015, Jason ran his first half-marathon and is running the United Airlines NYC Half in March. He is currently working on completing his DPT and sports therapy certification through the University of St. Augustine.

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