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How to train at your ability level - Tempo Runs

Tempo Runs

It has been said that you can’t make a fast runner out of a slow person. You can however, reach your true potential by using sound training principles. In this article we will discuss an important aspect of how to train up to your full potential.

Tempo Runs

To do this you will need to know how hard you should push yourself during your training runs. Generally, you should only train up too about 80 percent of your capacity. How do you know if you are at 80 percent capacity? 

The best way would be to go to a clinic and get tested to find out your current VO2 Max and lactate threshold. If you train to hard, lactate will build up beyond what your body can metabolize and you will reach a point of exhaustion, forcing you to slow down or stop. 

There is a best training intensity to avoid lactate build up while increasing your ability. Without going into some complex physiology, it is enough to know that lactate threshold and VO2 Max are directly related to one another. It is important to know that the level of lactate that your body can handle and the amount of oxygen you can deliver to your muscles changes in response to your training. You can increase those levels with sound training methods and by doing tempo runs. 

Hopefully, these levels are peaked when you show up at the starting line on race day.

Tempo Runs

Determining Your VO2 Max

There are simple ways to determine your VO2 Max without having to go to a lab for testing. These methods have been widely used by coaches over the years and they get surprisingly accurate results by doing some fun and simple test runs.

Here’s how it’s done:

If you are a half or a full marathoner, run a 3 or 6 mile timed trial, run at your best effort, evenly managing your energy throughout the run with a strong finish. 

This means that you don’t come off the start going full blast and then run until you are completely out of gas, dragging yourself to the finish line. The best outcome would be to run a perfectly consistent pace throughout the trial run. 

If you use a track this is possible since it is a flat surface. If you do your test run at the Rose Bowl, you will have gentle ups and downs to content with and will have variability in your pace. For long distance runners, I like the Rose Bowl since it represents a more real world environment. 

Tempo Runs

It will take some practice to figure out how to manage your energy to achieve an even pace over the trial. It’s a good way to start thinking about how to manage your energy during a race, since we are all aware of the problems associated with going out too fast.

You are looking to get a sense of your real pace. Use 3 or 4 trials to get the average and throw out any trial that was way out of range. Once you have a good idea what a 100% effort is, you can start to back off and use numerical values to gauge your tempo speed. To do this, use the following example: You averaged 30 minutes on your 3 mile timed trials. Your pace is 10 minutes per mile. You need to run tempos at 10 to 15% slower than this pace so add 15 to 20 seconds per mile to your pace per mile.

Your First Tempo Run!

What we have just described here is how to do a “Tempo Run.” You can apply this formula to any distance. 

Tempo runs are based on your goals, so if you are a half marathoner you would work up to an 8 or 9 mile tempo run. Start out with a 3 mile tempo run after a warm-up. Over the coming weeks you will add more miles to your tempo runs. I recommend increasing you run by a mile every two weeks. As your training progresses, you will develop a sense of your correct tempo pace.

This pace should be even throughout your run, taking into account that you are going up and down road grades which will cause variations in your pacing but should average out over the distance. You should feel like you have some reserve energy that could be used for a sprint. You are close to race pace, but not quite. On race day you will have the opportunity to go full throttle without feeling like you are out of your depth.

What Tempo Runs Do For You

When you do a tempo run you are forcing yourself to eliminate the lactic acid that is being rapidly produced by muscle metabolism. When you reach lactate threshold, you just can’t continue and will have to slow down while your metabolism catches up.

If you notice yourself, slowing down or unable to maintain pace, your tempo is too fast. If if is much too easy, speed up a little bit. We are only talking about small adjustments here, 10-15%. You have to take into account your physiology for the day. If you are tired, you may have to make adjustments to account for the 30 mile bike ride, an arduous day, or a drudge of stress.

In the 8 weeks leading up to a half or full marathon you should be doing tempo runs once per week for 20 to 90 minutes. The rest of your runs should be done at training pace.

You have the race of a lifetime within you. Now let’s train well and go run it!

See you on the roads and trails,

Dr. Steve Smith- your friendly, neighborhood Pasadena Chiropractor

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