Welcome to the first installment of 'tempo tuesday'! Tempo runs are a huge part of a successful training program and yet what they are is often debated and disagreed on. Many people put them in a very specific corner, a tempo run is a 4 mile run at 10k to half marathon pace for example. From my perspective this is a little silly. It is like saying intervals are only 12x400m at 5k pace with 100m jog rest. It is my perspective that tempo runs are one of what I call the four major workout types, interval, long run, tempo run, hill workout, and are as varied or more varied than all the other groups. So each week I plan on trying to highlight one specific type of tempo run and how you can use it to improve your running.
This week we start with a fundamental pace tempo run for marathoners. Fundamental paced tempos are the least strenuous of the tempo paced workouts I will highlight. All runners should be using them, and most do whether they know it or not. They are most used and best used in the early stages of a training cycle though they can be sprinkled in throughout training for various reasons. Depending on what event you are focused on the exact type of fundamental tempo you should be doing varies. Today we I will be talking about fundamental tempos specifically for marathon training. This is not to say that non marathoners or those focused on a different event this season shouldn't use these at all but only points to the fact that the fitness benefits of this workout most directly impact your ability to do better marathon specific workouts later in the training cycle.
The fundamental tempo for marathon runners should be run at 80% to 90% of marathon goal pace. Put another way at 1.1 to 1.2 times marathon pace. This is not a particularly fast effort. For a national class marathoner targeting a mid 2:13 marathon- 3:10 per Kilometer/ 5:06 per mile- your fundamental pace would be only 3:29 per k, 5:36 per mile to 3:48 per K, 6:07 per mile. For a runner with a realistic expectation of running a 2:13 marathon 6:07 per mile would be considered in most instances a normal training pace, not a tempo but that is the low end of the fundamental tempo. A pace which would normally be viewed as just a good training run pace.
Now how to find your fundamental tempo pace. There are a number of ways to do this and I will attempt to pick just one despite the math teacher in me wanting to show you 9 different ways and wax lyrical about the symmetry of math… The easiest way is to take your goal marathon pace in minutes per mile or per kilometer and convert it to seconds.
So a runner looking for a 3 hour marathon has a goal pace of 6:52 per mile which is 412 seconds ((60x6) + 52). Now you multiply that number by 1.1 to get the fast end of the pace range, yes calculators are allowed, 1.1 x 412 = 453.2 Now convert back to minutes and seconds by dividing by 60, calculators are discouraged because you want a remainder, as this will be the seconds, not a decimal answer 453/60 = 7:33 per mile. Now to find the slow end of your pace you multiply your goal marathon pace by 1.2. 412 x 1.2 = 494.4 again divide by 60 to get the time in minutes and seconds 494/60 = 8:14 per mile. So for the runner with a goal of a 3 hour marathon your fundamental tempo goal pace is 7:33 to 8:14 per mile.
Now that you know your pace the next part of the equation is how long to run for. Traditionally the marathon focused fundamental tempo is pretty long. Actually it borders on being what many would refer to as a long run or at least a medium long run. Basically you want to it to be from 1 hour and 20 minutes to 3 hours in length. I am very specifically using time here not distance as I would not advice running at a high effort for much over 3 hours even if your marathon goal time is 5 or 6 hours.
Now you have the basics of the workout set. The devil however with this and with every workout is in the details. The single most important detail of this workout and every workout is not how to do it once but how to IMPROVE it so that at the end of a given training cycle you are doing it better than you were capable of doing it at the beginning of the cycle. In other words you have improved or gained fitness which is the goal of all training.
I had a conversation early in my running career with a coach I would characterize as not very good and he was going on about how coaching was easy and success was based entirely on the talent that came to you, luck of the draw. His basic premise was logical. There are only a handful of training methods and we all know what they are.
My question at the time was 'why are some coaches consistently more successful than others?' His response was that they were either better recruiters, had more numbers of people to work with or were simply more lucky. No doubt all these things can impact success but still again and again you have certain coaches who's athletes outperform their piers with similar backgrounds. If this success was just luck than the Joe Vigil, Don Larson, Bill Bowermann etc… would have been far better off spending their lives in the local package store scratching lottery tickets as they would certainly have made more money that way.
My point is the key to training is not just WHAT you do but HOW you do it. For improving with fundamental tempos and really all tempos there are a couple of possibilities. The most obvious is to try and run faster each time out. Unfortunately often this just means we run too hard and we do not see great improvement in this way. The next most obvious is to keep the effort the same and increase the distance. Logically you would expect this to lead to the same problem as just going faster BUT the physiology of how our body improves under the stress of aerobic activity defies logic in this case. As you increase the distance you will notice as you pass shorter marker that were once challenging that your effort at that stage is far less than it was in prior attempts.
So what you must do is start with a shorter tempo, in this case 80 to 90 mins preferably in the slower end of the tempo range though if you are a very strong aerobic runner you may be able even at the early stages of a training cycle to run on the fast end of the pace window and if you can do so than it is perfectly right for you to do so. Now after your first session you should return to this workout every week or two but each time out try to increase the distance of the run by 10 to 20 minutes. When you reach a length of time similar to your goal marathon time or 3 hours you should drop the time back down to the 90minute range but also increase the pace by 10 to 20 seconds per mile. You will be shocked by how easy your body finds the new faster pace. If there is still time in your base phase you should again build the time/distance of your tempos up at the new faster pace targeting your goal marathon time.
It would be expected that in preparing for a marathon a person would spend 1 to 3 weeks tapering for the race, 6 to 8 weeks in specific prep for the race and 6 to 10 weeks prior to doing base work for that specific prep. The fundamental tempo belongs here in that base. During the Specific phase you may want to touch on this fitness as a secondary workout but in that case it should be a fairly light session not be more than 90mins in duration and it should not be the focus workout of the week.
In the base phase of 6 to 10 weeks you should be doing this tempo 6 to 10 times. Basically every week. You are building your basic aerobic endurance as well as improving your bodies ability to burn fat at slightly quicker speeds which is the key to avoiding the wall in the marathon. If you burn more fat at a given speed than you inherently burn less glycogen, which is a much more finite resource. If you can reduce your glycogen burn enough you will not run out of it in 26.2 miles which means you can hold your pace and finish strong in the marathon with your aerobic abilities being your limiting factor rather than your muscles glycogen stores.
This session alone will not solve the glycogen problem but it builds towards the sessions in the specific phase, specific intervals, specific fartlek, specific long tempo, specific progression, specific alternations, that all together will teach your body to burn a fat rich mix at marathon pace so you can be racing in the last 10k instead of battling for survival.
A sample progression for marathon fundamental tempo runs in a marathon base phase would be
week 1- 1:30 at 1.2x marathon pace
week 2- 1:50 at 1.2x marathon pace
week 3- 2:10 at 1.2x marathon pace
week 4- 2:30 at 1.2x marathon pace
week 5- 1:30 at 1.1x marathon pace
week 6- AM 80mins at 1.1x marathon pace PM 80mins at 1.1x marathon pace
week 7- 2:10 at 1.1x marathon pace
week 8- 2:20 to 2:30 at 1.1x marathon pace
Now you are ready for some specific marathon work!!
Finally the down and dirty summary for the marathon focused fundamental tempo.
What it is- A 90minute to 3 hour tempo run at 80% to 90% of your goal marathon pace.
How it is progressed- Like all tempo runs you should increase the duration not the speed on a week to week basis.
Why it is done- The goal of this workout is to increase general aerobic endurance. Improve muscular endurance so that the body is ready for long hard marathon specific workouts. This is the first step towards getting your body ready muscularly, aerobically and in terms of fuel consumption for the very specific demands of running 26.2 miles at a startlingly quick pace.