Tempo running is a super session triathlon pros use to fine-tune their third discipline. Triathlon Plus and triradar.com contributor Martin Yelling shows you how.

Tempo sessions are the secret to pro success

It’s simple. Running faster in training gets you fitter, stronger and more ready to run fast at the end of a triathlon or in a standalone running event. This doesn’t mean every run should be a total suffer-fest. Whether you have a few end-of-season triathlons to complete and need to give your race fitness a quick boost or have some running events on the horizon in the autumn, tempo running is a great way of getting more bang for your buck from your run training.

It’s no secret that the top pro triathletes and elite runners all include tempo running in their regular workouts. Tempo running trains your body to maintain speed over distance. Essential when those legs start to feel the burn at the end of the run after a swim and bike. Tempo running helps develop a strong heart, lungs and muscles.

Where the temptation is to head out of the door for yet another same-paced plod – stop! Think TEMPO for a better way to mix your training up, motivate your run and give your tri-specific race fitness or run speed a kick. A tempo effort is ‘comfortably hard’. It’s controlled, sustained, and efficient running. It requires concentration and focus. In terms of effort level it’s about 75% of maximum effort. It’s harder than a comfortable ‘miles in the bank’ run, but you’re not leaving your lungs on the side of the road.

You’ll know if you’re running too hard in a tempo run because your heart will be beating through your chest, you’ll be puffing vigorously, your muscles will start to ache and you’ll really want to slow down. You’re not running hard enough if it’s a breeze and you’re floating along. Somewhere in the middle is the balance of the tempo run. Finding the tempo spot does take a little practice and learning to train at it takes discipline, patience and control.

The great thing about tempo running is that it’s a time-efficient workout that can be done year round, with great fitness and race benefits. Including a weekly tempo run in your training regime will help you feel stronger for longer running off the bike (assuming you haven’t smashed the bike to bits that is!). I coach Joel Jameson who won the 2011 Outlaw Triathlon and his training plan includes tempo running. It helps him to be one of the fastest off-the-bike runners on the Ironman circuit. He says: “To race well at Ironman 70.3, my favourite tempo run is done off the bike as a brick. After a 40-mile ride including some intervals, I’ll do a progressive acceleration run for eight miles, with the final five at tempo pace.”

My wife, Liz Yelling, is a double Olympic marathon runner and she includes tempo running every week too: “Running well in marathons is all about being economical, and tempo running improves that,” says Liz. “I do tempo runs of between 40 and 60 minutes regularly.”

Use these two sessions to sharpen up your speed, depending on your fitness.

Total run time: 30mins

  • After a five-minute easy warm-up jog, accelerate the pace of your run for ten minutes until you reach a speed that feels like 75% effort (tempo).
  • Turn around and run back the way you came, holding the tempo effort for ten minutes. Getting the pace right will mean your focused ten-minute tempo return run will see you continue slightly past your start point.
  • Then take a five-minute easy run warm down.

Total run time: 53mins

  • After an easy ten-minute warm-up run, do 4×3-minute runs at 80% effort (threshold).
  • Recover for two minutes between each run and for three minutes after the set.
  • Then run 20 minutes at 70-75% effort (tempo) – controlled and sustained.
  • Do a five-minute easy run to warm down.

This article was first published in Triathlon Plus magazine – click here to subscribe.

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