I am running better than I ever have before. 

There, I said it. 

Normally I’m not a superstitious person.  I tend to believe that hard work is what pays off whether you are hoping to improve at your job, your relationships or of course your running.  But it does seem that whenever you start really feeling good about yourself – that four letter word LIFE seems to reach up and drag you back down a few steps. 

I have been holding off on writing this post ever since the NOCC Balance 5K the day before Landry was born as I didn’t want to “jinx it”, but when I look back on my training logs from last year, my weekly mileage totals and my race results, I may be getting older, but I am most definitely getting stronger and faster. 

Age 43, who would have thought that would be possible.  Certainly not me. 

Cougar Country Classic 5K - 18:12

Recently I have had a few running friends ask me to help them develop training plans and race day strategies.  This has been a great opportunity to give back to other runners as they look to improve, as it really is about paying it forward in life.  

As much as I have enjoyed the opportunity to pass on some “coaching”, it has benefitted me greatly as I have been able to really look at my own training – and determine what workouts have proven to be the most beneficial. 

I’ve taken a step back and looked  at where I have gotten the most “bang for my buck” when it comes to my training runs – and how I have been able to maximize the impact from each of my 5 run days per week. 

Since I fully recovered from back to back marathons this spring and started what I have been calling my “Pre-Austin Marathon Training Cycle”, as Austin training begins October 18th, I have stuck to the schedule below: 

Monday – Rest/Cycle/Strength Training 

Tuesday – Tempo Run 

Wednesday – Marathon Pace Run/Strength Training 

Thursday – Hill Repeats 

Friday – Rest/Cycle/Strength Training 

Saturday – Tempo Run or BQ Pace Run 

Sunday – Long Run 

This schedule has given me a great mix of workouts that as I sprinkled in 5K and 10K races over the last few months, has allowed me to work on improving all aspects of my running for the first time really, ever. 

Pre-Austin Marathon Training Schedule

Speed has been addressed in my Tempo Runs and Racing, Strength during my Hill Repeats, Stamina in my Marathon Pace Runs and Endurance during my Sunday long runs. 

Each workout has had a goal and purpose as I have avoided running any “junk miles” or “throwaway workouts”.  The type that don’t do much other than add miles to your training plan and look good crossed off of the refrigerator.  I’ve tried to make every run count this summer and the results are definitely there. 

But if I was forced to pick just one workout to keep in my training plan and get rid of all the others, which is completely unfair along the lines of asking me to only eat one type of meal for the rest of my life, I would have to pick Tempo Runs. 

Tempo Tuesday has become such an important part of my training plan that I cannot imagine giving it up. 

After an off-day from running on Monday I have relatively fresh legs for the workout.  I usually do not have any lingering soreness or any aches and pains and I have been able to really focus in 100% on the goal for that morning. 

A tempo run is a workout that will benefit all runners from 5K racers to Marathoners.  It seems counterintuitive to think that one workout could be so versatile – but the Tempo Run truly is. 

The Tempo Run teaches your body to run faster before fatiguing. 

Now, a lot of studies have been done by scientists and runners much more sophisticated and smarter than I am that show the best predictor of distance running performance is your lactate threshold or LT. 

The “everyman” explanation for lactate threshold is the speed you are able to run before lactic acid begins to accumulate in the blood.  Once that lactic acid level builds to a certain point, your muscles fatigue and you slow down.  

By regularly including tempo runs into your training schedule, you will increase the speed that you can run before lactic acid begins to slow you down. 

This only occurs by “running faster” – it will not improve by simply running more and more miles at the same slower pace.  You will improve your endurance and stamina by stretching your long runs from 8 to 10 to 12 to 14 to 16 miles.  But you will not necessarily decrease the pace at which you can run those miles. 

To put it simply, if you want to race fast, you have to train fast. 

Cruising - 5:50 pace

Tempo runs have been my go-to workout over the past three months to do just that.  Get faster. 

So what is a Tempo Run?  Truly it doesn’t have to be a complicated workout.  You will hear a lot about interval training and Yasso 800’s – which are all great workouts.  But to add a traditional Tempo Run to your training plan you don’t need a track, a coach or fancy GPS timer.  The idea is to run somewhere between 20 minutes and 35 minutes at “Tempo Pace” after a warm-up mile or two.  After the “Tempo” portion of your run, you will want to run a cool-down mile or two. 

More on what “Tempo Pace” is in a second. 

If these workouts are not a part of your training program today you may want to start gradually with a tempo run that features the “tempo portion” of just two miles.  Then add a half a mile every other week until you reach 4 miles at your tempo pace. 

More experienced runners may want their tempo portion to stretch up to 5 or 6 miles.  Like anything, as you improve the workout will get easier, so you need to keep challenging yourself to keep improving. 

Some runners like to break their “tempo portion” of the run into two parts – taking a 45-60 second break from tempo pace in the middle.  An example of this would be a 1 mile warm up, two miles at tempo pace, a 60 second recovery jog, two miles at tempo pace and a closing cool down mile.  

This would make the workout a bit more manageable as you begin to stretch those distances.  Again, the key is to run at that Tempo Pace for an extended period of time, allowing your body to adapt to the pace and improve your Lactate Threshold. 

So how do you know what your Tempo pace is? 

Well, traditionalists say that a solid tempo pace is :30 seconds per mile slower than your 5K Race pace or :20 seconds per mile slower than your 10K race pace. 

If you do not know what your race pace is for those distances, you can use what is known as “perceived effort”.  A tempo run should be run at a “comfortably hard” pace.  I know, I know, what the heck does that mean.  

That means that you should feel like you are running fast enough so that you know you’re working hard, but if you had to, you could keep up the pace for up to an hour.  If you are running with another person you’re able to say a few words here and there, but you can’t really “chat”.  

I usually gauge this by the fact that I can say, “Good Morning” to an approaching runner without being out of breath, but I most certainly couldn’t recite the preamble to the Gettysburg Address. 

Tuesday’s Tempo Run this week took me out of the comfort zone of the Brushy Creek Trail and onto the road near our home.  Since Hermine blew through Austin dumping unprecedented rains on our area – our trail is in very, very poor condition.  Erosion, ruts, standing water, fall offs, pretty dangerous for a pre-dawn runner like myself.  So we took to the streets of Avery Ranch and covered a hilly course for our Tempo Run this week. 

Ideally I like to run this workout on flat terrain, so that I can measure my mile splits evenly.  That was not possible this week, so instead I focused on keeping my effort the same over my 6.2 mile Tempo Run, knowing my times would be slightly faster on the downhill and slightly slower on the uphill miles of the run. 

This is a key workout building towards our run at that elusive sub 40:00 minute 10K time at the IBM in October. 

Tempo Tuesday

Tempo miles Thursday: 

6:43 (+43 feet)
6:37 (-35 feet)
6:44 (+37 feet)
6:37 (-36 feet)
6:59 (+59 feet)
6:42 (-48 feet)
Final .20 at 6:22 pace 

Shooting for a 6:26 pace at IBM, our tempo run came in right on target, about :15-:20 seconds slower than our 10K goal pace.  Add in the hills, 78 degree temperature and 88% humidity, as well as a 14-mile long run on Sunday and I would say we have a really good shot at reaching our goal at the IBM Uptown Classic. 

Today is Thursday, which means hill repeats.  Another great workout and one that is helping us gain great confidence for all the climbing we will be doing during the middle stages of the Austin Marathon in February. 

Like I said before, we’ve never felt better, never run faster, never been stronger – now all we have to do is keep up the hard work for another 5 months, stay healthy and we should be in fine shape to honor Dom in the right way on February 20th.  

My goal is to never race again without Dom’s name on my shoes and his memory in my heart. 

Thanks for the added push this summer Dom – I miss you every day.

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Comments
  1. Jodi Higgins says:

    Great post! And as one of your “student’s” I say thank you so much for developing a training plan for me and I have to say I am feeling really good but like you, I didn’t want to “jinx” myself by saying it… Great job out there Joe! I truly hope I have the opportunity to meet you in person one day…you truly are an inspiration!!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jodi! Thanks so much for the visit. Great students always make the teacher look smarter than they really are —- thanks for making me look so good with your great training!

      I think racing together is just a matter of time, whether that is back in PA/OH or down here in TX. Best to you with the rest of your cycle and crush those hills today!

  2. I’ve always believed tempo runs to be the greatest bang for your buck in training for 5k and up. Great post explaining the benefits of tempo runs and why if you want to lower your pr’s you should consider running them.

    And I like your shoes in the pic. I’m a big fan of Brooks.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Daniel – thanks so much for the visit! Love what you do at Runners Passion! I have really become a convert to Tempo and Hill Work, can’t imagine training without those two workouts every week. Best to you and yes, I do love those T6 Racers!

  3. Joe! Perfect timing after my successful tempo run this week. I am trying too to make each run count and I really think the 3 runs I am doing: LSD (long slow distance…don’t get any ideas), tempo, and hill, modeled after a combination of what you do and the FIRST training program are coming together nicely. Each one complements the other. Without the hill repeats, the hills on my tempo run would have slowed me down. Without the long runs, I would have no sense that I am capable of a tempo 4 miler. Etc.

    Now if I can only motivate to do some core/strength on those off days, I would be really pleased 🙂

    Thanks again for all your informative posts. I truly believe it’s the information I’ve gotten through you that have made me do workouts that are actually aimed at making me a better runner rather than a runner who accumulates mileage.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi AJ! Thanks so much for the message. You really are doing such a great job balancing everything that you have going on (And man, do you have a lot going on!), with your training and racing. You hit the nail on the head, that focused workouts that have a real goal and result in mind trump those “junk miles” when it comes to improving as a runner.

      I think it’s important to have a run every now and again where you just don’t think too much and go log some miles, as that is what keeps this sport good for the soul ….. but if you’re out there “training” – you might as well do it with a vengeance!

      Best to you AJ and to R! Have a great rest of the week!

  4. onelittlejill says:

    I love photos when both feet are in the air 🙂

    So…what you are saying is, I just have to make it to 40 and I will be a running machine…cause sometimes this body feels 50 already!!!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jill! You know, I’m not sure about the age thing as much as the “patience” thing. When I was younger, I would have been a terrible marathoner. I would have wanted all the gains to come too quickly, right away and I would have been really discouraged by a bad race or a plateau.

      If I got injured? I’m sure I would have quit.

      As I’ve gotten a bit older now I think I am more willing to put in the effort to make those little gains and watch them add up and up and up.

      I think you are already there as I love the perspective you have on your training and how well you know when to push it and when to back off. Of course, you “girls” always were more mature than us “boys” when it comes to that kind of thing …..

      I think you will be a great triathlete as long as you want to keep doing it. No doubt about it. Best to you from TX! J

  5. Drew says:

    What a timely post, Joe. I find tempo runs to not only be the most beneficial, but the workouts I enjoy the most. I have recently wondered if I’m doing it right, because there seem to be varying opinions as to what makes a pure tempo run. I’ll be reevaluating how my approach based on what you wrote to make sure I’m on the right track.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Drew – thanks so much for the visit and the message! Best of luck dialing in that “Tempo Pace” for maximum benefit. It is definitely a process to really “nail it down” – and this time of year of course with temperatures changing, that pace will change again.

      That is why I think focusing on the “effort” and the way the tempo run should “feel” is a great way to go. In three months, with the same effort as Tuesday morning, my splits might be :15/mile faster ….. I’m not faster, we’ll maybe I will be a little bit, but it is again just the body’s ability to stave off the accumulation of that Lactic Acid and how hard we are working in the Heat or Cool temps.

      Best to you Drew! Keep on Truckin’!

  6. Thanks for sharing the details on your training and approach to tempo runs Joe. I admit to being a skeptic of the tempo run, and I usually set them aside this training cycle in favor of intervals (800’s and 1600’s) and hill repeats (starting at 400’s, working up to 800’s). However, I think I’ll be mixing them back in in the spring and maybe space out the hills and intervals a bit (do 2 of the three types each week). I tend to run my tempo runs at closer to my 10K pace, maybe 10 seconds slower as an average pace, and make them progressive at an increase of 5 sec/mile per mile. Everyone seems to have their own approach to tempo runs, and there’s no right choice. Eager to see how yours help you in fall races and Austin early next year.

    • joerunfordom says:

      Greg – thanks so much for the visit and the message! You are really looking strong for Akron Greg – best to you chasing down that sub 3:00:00 marathon – that is just tremendous.

      Funny about Tempo runs, to me it’s kind of an “organic” track workout. I feel a bit more “free” during them than say 800 repeats – which feels a lot like “work”.

      Don’t get me wrong – tremendous workout those repeats – but I am really loving the tempo runs right now and seem to be really getting the results (speed improvement, LT improvement) that I’m chasing.

      One of the great things about our sport – always a new way to train and improve. I like your idea of rotating between the three workouts (Tempo, Intervals, Hill Repeats) – maybe that will be the mix for post-Austin spring training …. great idea.

      Best to you Greg!

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