How To Do a Tempo Run

Mastermind Weekend 1/16

Hey there!

I'm Tina

I’m the owner of Carrots ‘N’ Cake as well as a Certified Nutrition Coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN-P). I use macros and functional nutrition to help women find balance within their diets while achieving their body composition goals.


An in-depth, 4-week reverse dieting course for women who feel like their metabolism has slowed down, think they might have hormonal imbalance and can’t lose weight no matter what they do.

Success! I dominated my tempo run this morning!

Are you wondering what a tempo run is all about? I received a bunch of questions when I posted my half marathon training plan for the Run to Remember the other day, so here’s a quick explanation:

Tempo runs are an excellent way for runners to build speed and strength. They’re runs that are done at a steady effort level, usually just a little slower than your 10K race pace. Tempo runs help you develop your anaerobic or lactate threshold, which is critical for running faster. [source]

There’s obviously a lot of science behind tempo runs, but, basically, you’re running at a faster pace (“comfortably hard”) to improve your metabolic fitness. Tempo runs teach your body how to use oxygen more efficiently (by increasing your lactate threshold), which helps you get stronger and become a faster runner.

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I wasn’t sure what “comfortably hard” meant exactly for pace, so I did a little Google searching, and I found these four methods from Runner’s World to help gauge intensity and ensure you’re doing tempo workouts at the right pace:

  • 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.

My current 5K pace is 8:10 and my current 10K pace is 8:30, so I started with an 8:45 pace for today’s workout (35 min tempo run), which translated to:

  • 10 minutes easy running (warm up)
  • 20 minutes gradually increasing pace
  • 5 minutes easy running (cool down)

Hal Higdon recommends that the pace buildup is gradual, not sudden, with the peak speed coming about two-thirds into the workout, which you should only hold for a minute or two. My pace for today’s workout started at 8:45 and finished around an 8:00 pace. Including warm up and cool down, I covered almost 4 miles in 35 minutes. It felt great to get out there and run today!

Want more info about tempo runs? I found these two articles to be really helpful:


Before heading out for my run, I ate breakfast, which was “Oatmeal” Minus the Oats with two scoops of Teddie Peanut Butter in the mix.

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I also drank a glass of iced coffee with almond milk.

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After my run, I showered up and then made lunch, which was a chicken salad sandwich.

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With sweet potato wedges and a glob of peanut butter on top.

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My afternoon snack was a Sweet Potato-Kale-Peanut Butter Smoothie, which was inspired by the 7-Day Green Smoothie Challenge. Katherine and Jen are challenging readers to add one green smoothie to their daily eats for seven days, so I’m going to try to get in my greens all week long!

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In the mix:

  • 1/4 cup mashed sweet potato
  • 1/2 cup frozen chopped kale
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 tbsp ground flaxseed meal 

The only thing I could taste in this smoothie was peanut butter, and it was awesome.

P.S. My recipe for Homemade Almond Butter Balls is over on the Pretzel Crisps Blog!



  1. I went for a run today too! I’m not a big runner and hardly ever run outside, but it was really nice.

    My favorite parts of the run were the randomly applicable songs that came on my iPod — e.g. Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” and “No Air” — haaa so true…

  2. I actually did a post on speed training yesterday! Although on my training plans it tells me to do a tempo run by running a warm up, and then keeping my anticipated race pace for a certain number of miles and then cooling down. But I like what you did, mine gets boring keeping the same pace for a while!

  3. Love this explanation of the tempo run. I feel like I didn’t do enough of them during my last half marathon training (I did plenty of mileage, but I didn’t really vary my pace much. I just either ran at a steady, comfortable pace or fast, speed-training pace). I definitely plan on incorporating more of these tempo runs the next time around!

  4. I had a green smoothie for breakfast today. It was vibrant and delicious, although it didn’t contain a sweet potato.

    Better watch out, you might turn orange with all of those delicious sweet potatoes in your diet. 😉 I kid.

  5. Yep, working on speed and tempo runs for my upcoming half and yes, they definitely have had a great impact on my running speed. I will notice on my easy long runs that my comfortable speed has increased without me feeling like I am pushing it.
    Btw, I’ve never had Pb w/ sweet potatoes. I’ll have to try it. I wonder if my daughter will like it to!

  6. I’ve noticed a lot of sweet potatoes on your plate recently, and I’m curious to know if you’ve noticed any discoloration on your palms or the bottom of your feet as a result. Eating foods rich in carotenoids can cause slightly orange skin.

    I used to think that only orange foods caused the discoloration, but my doctor told me recently that lots of non-orange foods are rich in carotenoids too. Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, eggs, squash, broccoli and apples were all on the list.

    So frustrating! I feel like 90% of my favorite foods are carotenoid-rich, so I guess I’m stuck with freakish palms for a while. A manicurist actually asked me yesterday if I’d forgotten to wash my hands after using a self tanner. LOL!

  7. I am trying to do a green smoothie every day as well. I had one for breakfast, and then I had a big ole salad for lunch, so I am all over my greens for the day!

  8. Thanks for the tempo run explanation! I just started seriously running, and my training was always focused on just finishing whatever race I signed up for. I’m finally starting to do some speed training and was so confused by this this “tempo run” that everyone speaks of.

  9. Love the tempo run explanation! This took me a while to figure out when I first started properly training for races. I wish I had done more tempo runs during my half marathon training. I’m definitely incorporating it more in my next training plan.

  10. I’m a little slow but finally getting on the green smoothie, well smoothies in general, train this week and have been making some crazy good combos! I want to share them all on my blog but feel like it’d get boring with every smoothie recipe I’ve been loving haha.

  11. You just can’t get enough of those sweet potatoes lately, can you? 😉 Thanks for the tempo run info, that’s always something I fail on when training for races.

  12. I ended up having a green smoothie with dinner tonight 🙂 It was so warm out and sounded so refreshing!

    I have to admit that tempo runs are my least favorite type of speed work, but they DO get me really sweaty and seem to help me run faster 🙂

  13. we love love love our green around here too.
    the child?
    still doesnt “get” that it is kale and spinach even though she’s the one cramming it in the vitamix!

  14. hi tina – thank you so much for the shout out about the seven day green smoothie challenge and for participating. we are so happy to have you! 🙂

  15. I love the Almond butter ball recipe and it sounds soo delicious – do you happen to have the nutritional stats for one?

  16. Thanks for breaking this down. I thought I knew all about tempo runs, but I never realized that you don’t hit the max pace right away. I have a tempo run tomorrow so this is mucho helpful.

  17. Tina, I was referred to this post by Theodora at Losing Weight in the City, and it helped my tempo run so much this morning! I was dreading the tempo run on my weekly training schedule like the plague, turns out I was doing it all wrong! Although it was rough, this morning’s tempo run was much better than they have been, I don’t think I’ll be dreading them any more. Now off to make that Oat-less oatmeal….


  18. What a great and helpful post about how to do a tempo run! I’m doing one today and found some of the same sources you did but they didn’t really answer my questions. Thanks for breaking it down!

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