Tempo Run: Build Speed and Endurance

What is a tempo run? We get this question quite often from our athletes. If you Google tempo run, you'll find a various definitions and prescriptions. In short, the tempo is an awesome tool to train an athlete to run faster, with better mechanics and efficiency, for a longer distance So, basically the tempo run will provide the speed and endurance that we all desire!

The term, "tempo run" was coined by run coach legend, Jack Daniels. His simple definition, taken from Daniels' Running Formula (Human Kinetics):""A tempo run is nothing more than 20 minutes of steady running at threshold pace." Easy peasy! Well, not so fast (ha!). There's a bit more to it.

Yes, a tempo run is most commonly defined as a 20-minute run at a specific intensity or pace intended to push your anaerobic threshold. However, for those athletes training for a longer distance event, your tempo will begin to increase as you move towards your peak training. You might see distances peaking at:

  • four to six miles for the 10k

  • six to eight miles for a half-marathon

  • eight to ten for a 26.2 training plan

The tempo run is typically performed one time per week during your build phase of training. It’s important that you have an aerobic base with several months of consistent running before you begin. The first few weeks will feel very challenging, but over time the tempo will become fun - I promise! Well.... depending on your definition of fun, this might not be fun, but what will happen is that as your lactate threshold increases, the tempo run will feel more manageable.


Running only by pace works for many, but may not provide consistent data, particularly with changing conditions such as terrain, weather, health, etc. Heart rate never lies. Heart rate training is a preferred method of training because it provides accurate feedback of effort.

Ideally, tempo running will be performed on a consistent course. Plan a route that avoids excessive hills and stops. A paved trail is great for a tempo run.

As with any run, start with a warm up at an easy pace in heart rate Z1. It's always smart to throw in a few strides to get your muscles warm and blood moving. Warm-up for about 10 minutes and then begin to increase your intensity to 85-90% of your max HR. Maintain a heart rate between high Zone 3 and low Zone 4 for the duration of your tempo run. This is your threshold pace. Cool down 10 minutes with Z1 easy run.

If you prefer to run by pace, keep in mind that your tempo pace is roughly 25-30 seconds slower than your 5K pace. You can also identify a perceived effort level, which will be at an intensity where you sadly can not chit-chat with your running buddy. You may be able to spit out a "hey" to a passing runner, but this effort level should stifle your social nature. Daniels calls it "comfortably hard".

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