Since hiring my coach, I have seen some pretty dramatic increases in my speed most of which I attribute to the tempo intervals he has me doing 1 – 2 times a week. My weekly schedule is actually very similar to what I was doing while following Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning plan (18 week, 55 miles/week peak), however instead of speed work or longer tempo runs, I do tempo intervals.
What Are Tempo Intervals?
According to Paul Greer of the San Diego Union Tribune,
Tempo-pace running is designed to maximize aerobic capacity and increase aerobic efficiency. Regular threshold training enables runners to increase pace without suffering from lactic acid accumulation. Athletes should do these runs at a pace that can be maintained for 15-35 minutes. Tempo runs should be done at a pace that acclimates the athlete at, or slightly above, the anaerobic or lactate threshold.
Threshold training can be continuous or segmented. Continuous training, usually called tempo runs, is typically done for 20-40 minutes at a pace 30-40 seconds per mile slower than 5K race pace. Warm-up and warm-down running should precede and follow the tempo run.
Segmented threshold training also is referred to as tempo reps or tempo intervals. This training consists of a series of shorter runs lasting anywhere from 90 seconds to 8 minutes or 600 – 2000 meters with short rest intervals of 1 minute or less. A tempo rep workout will usually take 30-40 minutes with recovery included in the workout.
How I Incorporate Tempo Intervals in my Training
Every week my tempo interval work out is different. It’s always on Wednesday (leaving three days between my long run and this hard run) and it either lasts 60 or 90 minutes in total. There is typically a warm-up and then the intervals begin. An example of a workout would be:
- 10 minute warm-up
- 8 x 5 minute tempo intervals with 1 minutes recovery between
- Cool Down
Recently my tempo portions have been getting longer. For example this week I ran:
- 30 minute warm-up
- 15 minutes tempo
- 20 minutes easy
- 15 minutes tempo
- 10 minutes cool-down
When I first started working with my coach the intervals were typically on the short side – 5 minutes or 10 minutes long pretty much every time. Then, as I’ve progressed, he’s increased the tempo interval segments. At first I was running my 5 and 10 minute tempo intervals at a 7:40-45 min/mile average. On Wednesday I ran both of my 15 minute tempo segments at an average of around 7:27 min/miles and the last time I ran 5 minute tempo segments I averaged around 7:20! The longer intervals are definitely harder in that they take more focus and discipline to get through.
Prior to using my coach I would often do Yasso 800 intervals which were much shorter but also more intense (800 meters in 3 minutes 30 seconds – 7 min/mile pace). I know that I was making progress using the Yasso 800s and I used them to achieve my sub 3:50 goal time last year at Surf City, but I think that the tempo intervals have improved my speed more than the Yassos.
Another way that my coach uses tempo intervals is within my long runs. He said when we started that every other week my long run would include tempo intervals but due to the fact that two of the last 9 weeks we’ve worked together were races, I’ve actually only had 2 long runs without any speed work. The Pfiztinger plan included a long run with “marathon goal pace” miles every three or four weeks so I had already been incorporating some sort of speed into my long runs. However, the biggest difference has been that my coach has me doing the tempo runs at the beginning of the run, not the end (although lately there has been some at the end as well). He says that adding these intense intervals at the beginning of a long run provides the simulation of additional miles without adding the pounding of them.
The first time I did a long run with tempo intervals, I definitely felt like I was running more miles! I believe I only ended up running about 11 miles but it felt more like 14 after starting it off (after a warm-up) with 5 x 5 minute tempo intervals with 1 minute of rest between. This past weekend, as I lamented in my last post, I had a 20 mile run that included tempo at the beginning as well as the end. These workouts are hard, but they work!
As of now, I don’t plan to continue using my coach after Eugene (given that I qualify for Boston there of course), but I will be taking his tempo interval workouts with me to use in the future! I love how much I’ve learned already in the three years that I’ve been running half and full marathons seriously – I can’t wait to see how my running evolves over the next three (or ten!) years!
Do you use tempo intervals in your training? Do you use them in long runs or on their own? What is your favorite way to gain speed?