Description and Technique
Tempo runs are the single most important workout you can do to improve your speed for any race distance. Long runs develop pure endurance, but, tempo running is crucial to racing success because it trains your body to sustain speed over distance. In essence, as runners, we have trained our cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to the muscles but we have not trained our bodies to use that oxygen once it arrives. Tempo runs do just that by teaching the body to use oxygen for metabolism more efficiently. Most important, this faster-paced workout or lactate-threshold workout, teaches you to push your 'threshold" so that you muscles become better prepared at using the by-products (lactate and hydrogen ions) produced while you run when your muscles fatigue.
Even though there are many ways to perform tempo runs, I normally stick with the progressive type and build on distance, but, have fun mixing it up. For me, the progressive is simple to perform and is in many ways more enjoyable because your body gradually warms up to tempo pace. You feel stronger through the middle portions of the run and are able to finish at a faster pace. To do a progressive tempo run start with 1 kilometer or 1/3 of your distance at warm up pace. Then gradually and evenly increase your pace over the next 1 kilometer or second 1/3 of your distance at an easy endurance pace. The last 1 kilometer or 1/3 of your distance is at 90% of your maximum heart rate or just shy or breathlessness-we can also call this your 10 K race pace. This type of tempo run gives you the additional advantages of running and improving your ability or simply put, to run faster at the end of a long, quality run. Once you become comfortable with this technique, try mixing it into some of your LSD (long slow distance) .
An interesting article from Science Daily explains how lactic acid can be used as energy rather than the poison that most athletes believe it is:
Ensure that all speed work sessions begin with a dynamic warm-up and cool down routine.
Happy Trails my Friends!