Tempo work: all runs are not created equal!

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I am smack in the middle of peak week training for the Salt Lake City marathon.  Things are going good, really good!  To be very honest (this is the cyber truth circle) I don’t have much of a love for road running anymore.  Once I started mountain races and ultra distances, there was no looking back.  It’s been nearly two years since I ran my last official marathon (on the road).

So why am I back to the road?  Since becoming a running coach last year, I have written dozens of marathon training plans.  I was curious to know how the sound scientific training principles that I am using on other people would work for me.  AAAnnnddd by the end of the ultra season last year, I was craving a little speed, a little faster cadence for a little change up to all the climbing climbing climbing.  My last marathon was a great experience.  It was the first time I had actually stuck to a training plan and it paid off.  I PR’d by 18 minutes.  But I always felt that I had the potential to be a faster runner than what was reflected in my finish time for that race (3:42).  Back then I didn’t fully understand that all runs are not created equal though.  I always kind of thought that you just went out and logged the miles.  In order to get faster, you have to get SPECIFIC with your running workouts.  Each running workout needs to have a purpose.  Each workout should be programmed to create a physiological change in your body that results in increased fitness – whether that be in the form of endurance, speed, strength, etc. and all of that depends on your individual goals.  If you want to become a faster runner, you need to train your body to be able to clear blood lactate and keep it below a manageable level.  Why?  Because when your body becomes more efficient at clearing lactate (aka increasing your lactate threshold), you are able to deal with a slightly more demanding pace for a prolonged period of time.  My last go around with a marathon, I was missing a vital piece to increasing my pace:


Some people call them Threshold Runs.  I don’t care what you call them as long as you are doing them.  Before I dive into the “T” pace runs, let me clarify that these are different than interval running (“I” runs).  “T” runs and “I” runs are done at different paces and for different amounts of time.  T runs (I’m not typing parentheses anymore so deal how you need to) are over a longer duration than I runs, therefore by nature requiring them to be a little slower than I runs.  I will dive more into interval runs in another post, I’m sure you are just salivating at the thought. 🙂  So is pace important in T runs?  YES.  My T pace and your T pace are going to be different because the pace at which my body will begin to clear lactate faster is going to be different than yours albeit possibly very close.  A very common mistake for runners to make is judging a run by it’s overall AP (average pace).  Example:

Monday: I run 6 miles with an 8:15 average pace (AP).  This run was designed to be an “easy effort” run.  I run each mile at a fairly consistent easy pace between 8:05 to 8:20 which averages out to an 8:15 AP.

Tuesday: I run 6 miles with an 8:10 AP.  This run was designed to be a T run.  I run an E pace warm up and cool down with the middle like this: 15 minutes @ 7:20 w/ 2 min rest, 7 min @ 7:20 w/ 1 min rest.

22 minutes of Tuesday’s run were run significantly faster than Monday and the rest of it was run slightly slower in order to recover.  Even though their AP is only the teensy weensiest (I like it, it stays) different, each workout has a completely different physiological response in the body.  I used to not understand this.  But now I do homekids and hot dang it is paying off.  If my training runs are an indicator of my marathon performance in 3 weeks, I will be able to satisfy my speed appetite early this season and move on to my créme de la créme: mountain trail racing, baby!

Don’t be deceived by that sneaky average pace when you are logging the miles.  You might just be getting an apple when you wanted an orange.  Now I’m hungry and hopefully you have a nice little tidbit of training knowledge to stick in your back pocket.  If you are interested to know more about how to customize running workouts that help you to a goal, let’s chat.


Happy Running!


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