Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fundamental Pace Tempo Runs for Marathoners

  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.


Dan said...

I really enjoyed reading this! A lot of the Canova stuff on the internet is very dense, but your interpretations and additions are very easy to read while also super informative.

Not at the marathon stage of my running quite yet being a mid distance runner, but I still find this very informative. After you do the marathon posts you have planned, I'd definitely be interested in reading more about 1500/5k/10k thoughts of yours.

SJ said...

Great stuff. What does this effort convert to in terms of Heart rate. What are your thoughts/experiences on HR zones for gauging efforts? thanks for the great post.

Nate Jenkins said...

Dan I'll be getting to the fundamental tempos for shorter distances shortly so you shouldn't have too long to wait.
SJ I don't use heart rate much at all. The correct zone varies far too much from day to day based on your recovery level. I prefer to use sense of effort and goal/date paces. I would guess this are at about 80% max but even that would depend heavily on your fitness level and how recovered you were on a given day.

tomek baginski said...

thank you for sharing the knowledge and putting it out in such simple yet detailed way. all the best

Nate Jenkins said...

Tomek Thank you for reading it!

Romulus said...

Hi, Nate - I just want to tell you I had great success following the schedule in fundamental tempo runs for the 5K. My body doesn't like regular tempo runs/threshold runs at all, so finally something that worked for me - and paved the way for a new 5k PB. Thank you!!

Any idea of how to acommodate a fundamental tempo run for a half Marathon? Somewhere between Marathon/5K fundamental tempo run, I guess?

Any input greatly appreciated!


Matthew TK Brooks said...

What do you do if you are coming off a long layoff - how would you progress to that 80 min fund tempo ?
Love your stuff and thanks for always sharing!

Nate Jenkins said...

Matthew-comeing back from injury is always a study of one. Building up any workout after injury has a ton of variables that you need to take into account. IE what is your fitness coming off injury? What was your training like before the injury? What kind of volume are you able to do running easy?
For example I have a crazy history of high mileage. I generally can come back from injury fast and build very fast. As a middle guideline assuming you have some history of higher mileage and faster long runs and lets say you are in shape to run a 10k at about what you would have called marathon pace before the injury lay off. When you get up to about 30 to 50 miles a week you can do a 6 mile run at about 80% of marathon pace or 80% of your current 10k pace. Normally this would be way too fast but assuming that your fitness is somewhat surpressed and you should be able to bounce back pretty fast once you start rolling.
So once you do 5 or 6 miles at that pace just try and increase the distance by 1 to 2 miles every couple weeks, while increasing your miles at the same rate in terms of percentage. So if you are increasing your fundamental tempo by 2 miles in two weeks you should be increasing your overall mileage by at least 14 or 15 miles in that time. It is ok to increase your volume faster then you increase your fundamental tempo volume but the reverse is not ok.
You keep building the volume until you reach your desired length and you are at your normal volume, then you can drop the volume and increase the base and your back to normal fundamental building.
-hope that helps,

Matthew TK Brooks said...

Thank you for the detailed response - helps out a ton. I am going to test out a tempo of 4-6 miles at about 80% MP and see how that goes. I will also throw in strides next week to see how the leg turnover feels.

My left ankle needs some work with flexibility which I believe had an effect on my Insertional Achilles tendinitis issue.

Thanks again.

Daryn Lambooy said...


Just found your blog. Thanks for all the info. I am coming off the couch after 2.5 years (ie very very unfit) and I am old. I did some ok running about 25yrs ago (47min 15km).
I just signed up for a marathon in 8 months so I am looking into how to best train. Question about marathon tempo runs.
You say that in the fundamental phase these should be 80-90% of marathon goal pace. I thought I saw that Canova does marathon tempo during the fundamental phase at current or date pace as opposed to goal pace. Could you help clear that up for me?



Nate Jenkins said...

Canova has his athletes doing date pace tempos as well as fundamental pace long runs during the early prep for marathons. He also has them doing threshold paced tempo runs and alternations, which we sometimes call bounce threshold sessions. In short they are doing a ton of tempo work at a ton of different paces and distances. You should be as well but for you it is a bit tougher. If you are going from couch to marathon you are likely to make large gains in fitness so you may only be able to run a mile or two now at the pace that will be your eventual goal marathon pace. I would suggest that you run all your training off of estimated "date" fitness and just adjust it as you make gains. But in a micro cycle you should be trying to do a session for form/speed, a session for muscular endurance(ie some intervals with long rests- you could actually do these at your goal marathon pace and do 5k to 10k of work) then the rest should be aerobic work- a fundamental tempo or two, a threshold paced tempo, a marathon pace tempo, a progression run) Now that is a bunch of workouts you aren't going to do that in a week, so maybe a cycle is a month for you? Then check in on your fitness, either by running a race, or doing a hard workout or time trial and adjust your paces and move forward for another month.