Wednesday, 23 November 2011

My article in December "Vetrunner" magazine

Posted by speedygeoff on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 with 3 comments

Tempo running and racing
I thought I had better round out this year’s series on conditioning by reviewing both “tempo runs” and “races”.

Too little training: the key to good races is to train well, train often, and have a good mix of training sessions. It would be so easy to just race and to never train, as there is so much racing on offer. The wise runner is selective; plans out which races to compete in, and with a coach’s assistance gets ongoing feedback. You don’t need to race all the time to get a good idea of how fit you are getting.

Too little racing: Training isn’t an end in itself. It takes on meaning when there is a race at the end of it. Some runners, but probably few reading this, train all the time, and rarely put in a supreme effort in a race. A shame really. A race is the ultimate test of where you are at. A PB is the most satisfying outcome of all, and racing draws that out.

But in all likelihood, you the reader race too often. This can result in lots of good races, but no brilliant ones! So a suggestion is that you learn to sacrifice many of your races for the sake of better results in the few.

There was once a marathon runner who could have broken three hours, so I set out a plan for him to spend three months consolidating his training then three months of specific marathon training, including pace work and middle distance intervals as well as longer runs. However in his wisdom the marathon runner decided that racing every marathon he could find was the way to go. He ended up running them up to an hour slower than he was capable of. The quick one never happened.

There was once an 800m runner who hated losing. He won the first few 800m runs of the season, true, but by the end of the season he hadn’t improved, while his rivals who had started the season more conservatively did improve. A disappointing championship was the unhappy outcome.

But you want to go in many races, don’t you? Then I suggest you use many of the minor races as tempo runs.

Definition: A tempo run is a sustained run at faster than usual training pace.

One can use a race to do a tempo run. Before any tempo run, go through your normal warm-up and stretch routine, as if racing. Then be disciplined enough during the run to maintain the steady pace planned, ideally a good 15 to 20 secs per km slower than flat out racing pace would be on the day. Sustain that pace all the way to the finish. And follow this with your normal cool-down run. While the distance of a tempo run is not particularly important, holding back to at even pace is very important.

Some benefits of tempo runs:
1. Faster pace – You would normally, in training, do a run of a given length at a slower pace. This is a way of getting training runs up towards your lactate threshold. This has real benefits, you get fit faster.

2. Running form – Compared with races, while doing tempo runs you can focus more on form: relaxing and striding along with a spring in your step, for example. The goal is to run with good form over a long distance at reasonable speed.

3. Pace judgement – Is only learned by doing.

4. Self reliance – If you usually run in a group, which you should, tempo runs mean you alone are controlling how you run.

5. Race practice. Your preparation, hydration, running gear, warm-up, adrenalin, are all the same as in a big race.  And you get the feel of a race, without the exhaustion afterwards.

6. Recovery. You find that you recover immediately, even when you felt during the tempo run that you were pushing along at a good pace.

7. Train on as normal. You don’t have to peak for tempo runs, and you don’t need extra easy days after them. Normal training is not interrupted!

To summarise the year’s articles on conditioning, training for middle and long distance running is a combination of sessions, each single session aimed at no more than one of the following areas:  general aerobic endurance, specific aerobic endurance, speed endurance, strength endurance, and tempo running. Please read the other articles in this series as published in Vetrunner during 2011 to get the full picture. 


  1. Useful and interesting. Thank you. [Miranda]

  2. I have a couple of athlete who never race, and some who run races every weekend. It is sometimes very hard to get them to take it easy at the races.
    I love running races, but don't race many of them, It just to much hard work...

  3. I love tempo runs. I'll call Tuesday's race a hard tempo run - good fun!