Tempos vs Intervals

Two quick things to share:

First, my good friend, Kristin (who is also running the LA Marathon – yay!) is running 37 miles on a treadmill on Friday for charity. She is also hosting a virtual race in conjunction with her run (you can win some awesome prizes!). You can read all about it (and how to donate!) here.

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Second, Zulily picked their 10 Favorite Health and Fitness Bloggers and I’m thrilled that I made the list along with some of my friends: Christine, Kristin, Madeline and Katie!

 Fitness Blog

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I’ll be the first to admit that until a couple of years ago, I wasn’t completely sure of the difference between tempo and interval workouts. I knew that intervals should be faster than tempos, but I didn’t understand the purpose of either nor did I know what distance/time/pace I should be running them at.

Today, I have a better understanding of their importance as well as how to incorporate them into my training plan (I am constantly learning and improving on this and am NOT an expert by any means!).  I typically aim for two workouts each week during marathon training – often one tempo and interval.

Intervals

The first word that comes to mind when I think of intervals is the track since that is where they are frequently run. Common distances are 200, 400, 800, and 1600m so doing them on a track provides a flat, traffic-free route while eliminating the need to continually check for pace or distance.

Intervals consist of repeated short segments of fast running separated by slow jogging or complete rest. The intervals allow you to run much faster than you usually do, adapting your body to higher demands and your leg muscles to faster turnover. Over time, you become more physiologically efficient -> Intervals increase your overall speed.

Distance/Time: There are three types of interval workouts and each focus on improving a different aspect of your ability: Short (100-400), Middle Distance (600-1200) and Long (1600-3000). You can read about each of them, what they target, and examples of each type of workout here. The number of repetitions is dependent on the ability of the runner and the length of the interval (among other variables).

Example: 6×400 with 2 minutes of recovery. This means you run 400m at a designated pace followed immediately by 2 minutes of easy running (or complete rest).  Repeat 6 times.

Variations: Interval workouts do not have to be one specific distance. You can mix up some of the distances so it’s a ladder workout (ex: 400, 800, 1600, 800, 400).

Tempos

According to Jack Daniels, Ph.D, author of Daniel’s Running Formula, a tempo run is “…nothing more than 20 minutes of steady running at threshold pace.  Also known as an anaerobic threshold (AT) run or lactate-threshold run, a tempo run should feel hard - but not too hard - and could be maintained for up to an hour in a race. Tempo or threshold runs serve to increase the speed you can sustain for a prolonged period of time and to increase the time you can sustain that relatively fast pace.

Distance/Time: The duration and pace of a tempo run is dependent on what you are training for, your ability and the coaching method you are following . (Some coaches believe tempos should only last 20-30 minutes while others feel that tempos can last upwards of 60 minutes.) Generally, as your training plan progresses, you want to work on gradually increasing the pace of the tempo run.

Example: In the fall, my marathon training cycle started with tempo runs of 5 miles and built up to 8 miles (not including warmup or cooldown), while  gradually picking up the pace by ~10 seconds.

Variations: The most basic form of a tempo is a continuous run of anywhere from 20-60 min (or sometimes a bit longer). However, you can change it up and do tempo intervals (ex: 2×3 mile or 4×2 mile) or a progression tempo (starting on the slower end of tempo range and picking up pace with each mile)

And you can always get crazy and do a (shorter) tempo with a couple of intervals. I did a workout last training cycle that was one of the most fun workouts I’ve ever done – after a warmup, I did 2×400 (with a 1 minute recovery after everything) followed immediately by a 6 mile tempo and then another 2×400 set. The 4 total 400s are significantly less than a normal 400 workout for me (and the paces were a touch slower) so the focus and intensity was on the tempo portion.

Determining Pace

There are calculators available (for free) that will help determine what your pace should be for interval or tempo workouts. My two favorites are: McMillan Calculator and Maximum Performance Running(*Note: there could be a whole post dedicated to using pace calculators and figuring out paces for these workouts as well as how many reps and how much rest to factor in, but for the purpose of this post, I am just going to list the calculators I like to use.)

I aim for the slower end (or even slower than what is listed on the calculators above) for the first few workouts to gauge how I feel. I would rather do the workout 5-10 seconds slower but get the whole workout in than start too fast and have to call it quits after a few miles or repetitions.

Do you incorporate tempo and interval workouts in your training plan?

How often do you do them?

Have you combined a tempo and interval before? 

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I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

For More NYC Running Mama training updates, pictures and ramblings, check out:

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    Comments

    1. I definitely incorporate both when I’m training, but I hateeee tempo runs. During NYC Marathon training I h ad to do them once a week, and it was actually ok towards the end. My issue is I am always afraid I won’t be able to maintain the pace, so I’d always be nervous before tempo runs. I love track workouts though!
      Patty @ Reach Your Peak recently posted..Runners And SuperstitionsMy Profile

    2. I’m much better about doing intervals than tempos, mainly for the reason that I am bad about backing off after tempo segments (i.e. cooling down). I do much more progression runs than tempos, but I am trying to be better about doing tempo runs for real. I love intervals, I think that stems from being a track athlete in high school and college. Track feels like home to me.
      Laura @losingrace recently posted..Boston Training: 2 Steps Back, 3 Steps FowardMy Profile

    3. I am not great about changing up my paces other than that if I’m running shorter I run faster. I will do fartleks or speed intervals some on the treadmill occasionally, but not a critical part of training.

      This cycle I’m using the Runner’s World Smart Coach and it includes both, as well as giving me paces for each run. I’m scared and excited about it.
      Cyanne (RunStretchGo) recently posted..How Different my Life Would BeMy Profile

    4. Congrats again on Zulily that’s awesome!! Great descriptions!!
      Amanda @runtothefinish recently posted..Ab Challenge Exercises DemonstratedMy Profile

    5. This is a really great explanation of the differences. I only recently started running a bit again; I really couldn’t blame the weight on our 4 year old and 2 year old anymore ;-)
      Not really aiming for a marathon any time soon, but since I’m very unfit would you suggest focusing more on intervals than tempos? At the moment I still find it difficult to keep going for more than a couple of miles.

      Thanks,

      Emma

    6. This will really be my first training season using intervals. The make a lot of sense. I’m not sure why I haven’t tried them before.
      Katie (@momslrb) recently posted..Pin It Party Time!My Profile

    7. I have one tempo run and one speed workout (intervals) every week. I like the tempo run…do not like the speed. But both are important. Speed days, which was today, just make me feel quite so exhausted….
      Holly recently posted..Wednesday’s childMy Profile

    8. Thank you for the informative post! I do intervals more often than tempos but I need to do more of both. Love reading about your training!!!
      Jenn@Mark My Mile! recently posted..Surfing to the “outside”My Profile

    9. I have a love/hate relationship with tempo runs. I know they are great for getting me acclimated to a race pace, but they can seem SO LONG sometimes. I think that’s why they are harder for me mentally than intervals. :-)
      Jessica Morrison recently posted..27 Week Bumpdate (I Can’t Believe How Big I’m Getting!)My Profile

    10. When I’m training I usually do both types of runs each week. I’ve never combined them though – great idea! When I’m not training I still try to do a weekly tempo run to keep some speed but without the stress of intervals.
      Andrea @ The Fit Scoop recently posted..10 minutesMy Profile

    11. I am a soccer player turned runner and I continue to play soccer throughout my training (I’m training for my first marathon right now), so I usually count my soccer games as intervals. I’ve been using the Galloway training method (run-walk-run), and I’ve seen great improvements in both my soccer games as well as my ability to run for long distances. I would definitely recommend intervals if you’re looking to increase your speed!

    12. Thanks so much for the mention about the challenge friend! :) I’ve never combined tempo and interval…. I should one of these days. You’re workouts amaze me every single day.
      STUFT Mama recently posted..It’s About Time and Some Fun MailMy Profile

    13. I just started doing interval workouts on Tuesdays and tempo workouts on Thursdays. My training plan is based on the Hanson’s Marathon Method so tempo workouts to them mean “race pace.” I’m still trying to figure out what pace to do these speedier runs at!
      tara @ tara goes streaking recently posted..Day 62: 8.0 milesMy Profile

    14. I learned last training cycle to embrace these workouts, and typically did them each once a week. I always dread them in a good way. I love the sense of accomplishment after completing a tough workout. And tempo’s definitely help build confidence prior to race day.
      Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat recently posted..Being a “Fitness Snob”My Profile

    15. Like 2 Cups ‘N Run, I also do both once a week. Tempos used to be my least favorite but I LOVE them now. Painful but a great gauge of fitness level. Thanks for the explanations!
      Kris @ http://www.kris-lawrence.com recently posted..Cute Though.My Profile

    16. I do both, once a week. An interval run with 8-12 intervals at a speed that is very fast for me (My legs are pretty much toast by the last interval), and a tempo run of about 30 minutes, at a pace that is relatively fast but that I can maintain.

    Pings

    1. […] I know that tempo runs are an important part of training to gain speed. For those newer to running, tempo runs involve running at a pace that is slightly faster than what is comfortable for a prolonged period. This type of workout incorporated across a training cycle speeds up the pace you are able to run while also prolonging the distance you are able to run at that faster pace. (For more information about speed training, I recommend this post). […]

    2. […] Tempos vs. Intervals – When I first started incorporating speed work into my training, I was really confused by what tempo runs were supposed to be like and what they were meant to accomplish. I also despised them so for a while I just didn’t do them at all and did all interval training. Well… I still don’t like tempo runs. But now I know why they’re important and how to scale them based on what distance I am training for. I really wish that this post had been written a year ago to help me figure out what I was doing that much faster. Any runners who are just getting into speed training should check this post out. […]

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