Your Perfect Tempo

This “comfortably hard” run is the key to racing your best, at any distance. Here’s how to add tempo runs to your weekly mix.

Published

May 23, 2007

Robin Roberts runs like a Kenyan. Okay, she doesn’t run as fast as a Kenyan, but the 47-year-old New York City advertising executive–who trains far from Nairobi–has achieved personal records by using the same workout that has helped propel the likes of Paul Tergat and Lornah Kiplagat to greatness. The secret? A tempo run, that faster-paced workout also known as a lactate-threshold, LT, or threshold run.

Roberts–who’d dabbled in faster-paced short efforts–learned to do a proper tempo run only when she began working with a coach, Toby Tanser. In 1995, when Tanser was an elite young track runner from Sweden, he trained with the Kenyan’s “A” team for seven months. They ran classic tempos–a slow 15-minute warmup, followed by at least 20 minutes at a challenging but manageable pace, then a 15-minute cooldown–as often as twice a week. “The foundation of Kenyan running is based almost exclusively on tempo training,” says Tanser. “It changed my view on training.”

Today, Tanser and many running experts believe that tempo runs are the single most important workout you can do to improve your speed for any race distance. “There’s no beating the long run for pure endurance,” says Tanser. “But tempo running is crucial to racing success because it trains your body to sustain speed over distance.” So crucial, in fact, that it trumps track sessions in the longer distances. “Tempo training is more important than speedwork for the half and full marathon,” says Loveland, Colorado, coach Gale Bernhardt, author of Training Plans for Multisport Athletes. “Everyone who does tempo runs diligently improves.” You also have to be diligent, as Roberts discovered, about doing them correctly.

 

Why the Tempo Works…

Tempo running improves a crucial physiological variable for running success: our metabolic fitness. “Most runners have trained their cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to the muscles,” says exercise scientist Bill Pierce, chair of the health and exercise science department at Furman University in South Carolina, “but they haven’t trained their bodies to use that oxygen once it arrives. Tempo runs do just that by teaching the body to use oxygen for metabolism more efficiently.”

How? By increasing your lactate threshold (LT), or the point at which the body fatigues at a certain pace. During tempo runs, lactate and hydrogen ions–by-products of metabolism–are released into the muscles, says 2:46 marathoner Carwyn Sharp, Ph.D., an exercise scientist who works with NASA. The ions make the muscles acidic, eventually leading to fatigue. The better trained you become, the higher you push your “threshold,” meaning your muscles become better at using these byproducts. The result is less-acidic muscles (that is, muscles that haven’t reached their new “threshold”), so they keep on contracting, letting you run farther and faster.

 

…If Done Properly

But to garner this training effect, you’ve got to put in enough time at the right intensity–which is where Roberts went wrong. Her tempo runs, like those of many runners, were too short and too slow. “You need to get the hydrogen ions in the muscles for a sufficient length of time for the muscles to become adept at using them,” says Sharp. Typically, 20 minutes is sufficient, or two to three miles if your goal is general fitness or a 5-K. Runners tackling longer distances should do longer tempo runs during their peak training weeks: four to six miles for the 10-K, six to eight for the half-marathon, and eight to 10 for 26.2.

Because Roberts was focusing on the half-marathon, Tanser built up her tempo runs to eight miles (plus warmup and cooldown) at an eight-minute-per-mile pace. “The pace was uncomfortable,” she says. “But after a while I realized, ‘Oh, I can maintain this for a long time.'”

That’s exactly how tempo pace should feel. “It’s what I call ‘comfortably hard,'” says Pierce. “You know you’re working, but you’re not racing. At the same time, you’d be happy if you could slow down.”

You’ll be even happier if you make tempo running a part of your weekly training regimen, and get results that make you feel like a Kenyan–if not quite as fast.

 

UP TEMPO

A classic tempo or lactate-threshold run is a sustained, comfortably hard effort for two to four miles. The workouts below are geared toward experience levels and race goals.

GOAL: Get Started Coach Gale Bernhardt uses this four-week progression for tempo-newbies. Do a 10- to 15-minute warmup and cooldown.

Week 1: 5 x 3 minutes at tempo pace, 60-second easy jog in between each one (if you have to walk during the recovery, you’re going too hard).Week 2: 5 x 4 minutes at tempo pace, 60-second easy jog recovery Week 3: 4 x 5 minutes at tempo pace, 90-second easy jog recovery Week 4: 20 minutes steady tempo pace

GOAL: 5-K to 10-K Run three easy miles, followed by two repeats of two miles at 10-K pace or one mile at 5-K pace. Recover with one mile easy between repeats. Do a two-mile easy cooldown for a total of eight or 10 miles.

GOAL: Half to Full Marathon Do this challenging long run once or twice during your training. After a warmup, run three (half-marathoners) or six (marathoners) miles at the easier end of your tempo pace range (see “The Right Rhythm,” below). Jog for five minutes, then do another three or six miles. “Maintaining that comfortably hard pace for so many miles will whip you into shape for long distances,” says coach Toby Tanser.

The Right Rhythm

To ensure you’re doing tempo workouts at the right pace, use one of these four methods to gauge your intensity.

 

Recent Race: Add 30 to 40 seconds to your current 5-K pace or 15 to 20 seconds to your 10-K pace

Heart Rate: 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate

Perceived Exertion: An 8 on a 1-to-10 scale (a comfortable effort would be a 5; racing would be close to a 10)

Talk Test: A question like “Pace okay?” should be possible, but conversation won’t be.

 

SUMMER SHRED 45

45 Day Summer Challenge-June 2014
Challenge Information

WHAT? This is an opportunity to challenge yourself to get in the best shape of your life or simply get on track, lean up, and lose weight for the summer. Upon registration you will receive a basic lifestyle and training outline and food guide for your body type.


WHERE? St. Regis Bal Harbour, SLS Hotel, and W Hotel in FTL

HOW LONG? June 30-August 13 (8:30AM Weigh-Ins, Post Tests, & After Pictures)

RULES & REQUIREMENTS:
1) Before pictures, weigh-in, measurements, and performance testing Monday June 23rd, Wednesday June 25th and Friday June 27th at 8:30AM. You must register, pre-test and get your before snapshots done at the St. Regis Bal Harbour or W Hotel in FTL.

2) Simply attend a minimum of 2 beach camp classes per week AND at least 1 yoga class (AEROGA or Power Yoga). We recommend 5 days. For example: two days on, one day off or low intensity workout (yoga, bike, light run), two days on, rest.

3) After pictures, weigh-in, measurements, and performance testing done at the St. Regis Bal Harbour or W Hotel in FTL.

SCORES – Based on percentage of bodyweight, measurements, performance Criteria (From Pre to Post Test)

WINNER ANNOUNCEMENT – Friday August 15th

PRIZE – First place only, total prize pool

Ancestral Diets – A Lighter Shade of Paleo

Ancestral Diets
A Lighter Shade of Paleo

by SAYER JI AND TANIA MELKONIAN

 

Vegetarian Awareness Month provides a timely opportunity to realize that a plant-focused diet does not derive exclusively from plants. Just as a carnivore does not subsist on meat alone, the same applies to a vegetarian.

What can we learn from our Paleolithic, or Stone Age, ancestors? The recent trend toward recreating a Paleo-era diet emphasizes the importance of vegetable nutrition to prehistoric communities, correcting the misperception that they were primarily meat-eaters.

The original Paleo diet, before the advent of agriculture, reflected the hunting and gathering of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and was absent of grains, dairy, starchy foods, sugar and salt. Today’s updated version might comprise foods naturally available and/or abundant before the cultivation of food in gardens, crops and livestock.

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., author of The Paleo Diet and Nutritionist Nora Gedgaudas, author of Primal Body, Primal Mind, each contest the premise perpetuated by many in the weight-loss industry that fat, especially naturally saturated fat, is unhealthy. Those same proponents that maintain low-fat/non-fat food is a panacea for modern illnesses also purport that cholesterol is the chief cause of heart ailments.

Gedgaudas writes that the diets of hunter-gatherers inhabiting varied landscapes, from the Inuit of the north to tropical forest hominids, included large amounts of fat and cholesterol, which is essential to maintaining cell membranes and regulating hormones. She points out that obtaining cholesterol from food is necessary to augment the liver’s function of creating cholesterol internally.

Cordain agrees that even saturated fats in meats can be beneficial, providing the animals are grass-fed, lean and live in clean surroundings. He emphasizes, however, that when our prehistoric ancestors ate fat, they did not also eat grain carbohydrates, sugar and salt, and contends that it is these components, not meat, that can be detrimental to the body.

Doctor of Naturopathy Maureen Horne-Paul adds that organic, lean and game meats are exempt from the acidity inherent in corn-based animal feed. Plus, “When an animal is insensitively confined and killed, stress hormones are released that result in acidity. So, we are changing our pH from a healthy alkaline state to a more acidic condition when we consume meat from conventionally raised animals.”

Scientific studies published in the Journal of Gluten Sensitivity, Medical Hypotheses and by the Mercola group attest to key problems related to human consumption of grains. Anti-nutrients such as phytic acid in grains lead to the poor absorption of minerals and related deficiencies. Improper absorption of dietary protein caused in part by enzyme inhibitors in grains also tends to damage the pancreas. Individual sensitivities to proteins in specific grains can further interfere with functioning of the neuroendocrine system and subsequent emotional difficulties like addiction and depression may arise. All of these difficulties have been exacerbated by irresponsible prenatal diets that have made younger generations extra-sensitive to the challenges posed by grains to the human system.

While Cordain doesn’t recommend dairy, Gedgaudas suggests organic or raw milk products, provided they retain their full fat content and come from grass-fed cows. She reasons that the presence of the anti-carcinogenic fatty acid conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) and the Wulzen factor anti-stiffness agent in the fat benefit joint lubrication.

Experts suggest that the dietary formula established by our prehistoric ancestors can be the foundation for a modern-day, healthy, non-confining, creative eating experience. We can exchange grains for quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat (not technically grains at all), and include tubers and legumes, due to their folate and protein content. Blue and sweet potatoes also contain high levels of anthocyanins and potassium. Nearly every category of food, in the proper amounts, can be part of such a balanced diet.

When we explore what makes sense and eat clean and natural foods, we have a good chance of finding our body’s own sweet spot.

Sayer Ji is the founder of GreenMedInfo.com and an advisory board member of the National Health Federation. Tania Melkonian is a certified nutritionist and healthy culinary arts educator. Learn more at GreenMedInfo.com.