When I was going into college I remember the realization that 15:00 was the sort of 2nd tier gold standard for male distance college runners. Comparable to what 10:00 for 2 miles was in high school. You wouldn't be a star if you broke it but you would be 'respectable'. I had killed myself for years to finally slip under 10mins in my last year of high school and I was very proud of that accomplishment. Now not only was I going to have to drop my pace down to 4:48 a mile but I was going to have to add an extra mile and a 200. It was a cruel kick in the pants for sure. I had worked out very hard and very often in high school and I just didn't see how I would ever be able to force my under even that mark of basic respectability never mind the crazy heights beyond it. Then my first college Coach George Davis taught me a very important lesson.
It was impossible to run any harder. So I needed to make fast running easier. The secret to that was aerobic conditioning.
Now back then we were doing this mostly the slow old fashion way with miles bloody miles. Which still have there place but think of the fundamental tempo as a way to speed up the process and take it even further.
Almost everyone these days who is training for a 5k is doing some form of tempo running. Most often I see a lot of 3 to 6 mile tempos. Generally speaking these are run at an effort and for a distance that I would consider a latic threshold tempo. These are a great tool and should not be dropped, to the contrary I would probably suggest you do them more often and for more parts of your training year than you already do, but what I am also suggesting in this post is something a little different. Fundamental tempos are a tempo that you will use in your base phase and then largely drop. Though for the high school or college runner racing 9 months out of the year I would suggest doing them at least once a month pretty much year round and picking one of the 3 competitive seasons to included them weekly or pretty darn close to it. For all runners it should be done once or twice a week during the base phase.
The fundamental tempo even for 5000m running is a relatively long effort.You want to start at about 45 minutes and build up 70 minutes. The pace should be 15% to 25% slower than your goal 5k pace. To find your pace take your goal pace in seconds and multiply it by 1.15 for the fast end and 1.25 for the slow end of the range.
For example I'll walk through the paces for a 5k runners with goals of 15:00 and 18:00. For a runner targeting 15:00 for 5k that is 3:00 per kilometer pace 3x60 = 180 seconds 180x1.25 = 225 seconds which is 3:45 per K which is just a shade over 6:00 per mile- Basically a quick training run for a 15:00 runner. For the fast end 180x1.15 = 207 or 3:27 per K which is around 5:30 mile pace which is certainly quicker than someone targeting 15:00 for 5k would be normally running on a training run.
For the 18min runner lets do the math with per mile paces. 18:00 for 5k is roughly 5:45 per mile pace which is 345 seconds. 345 x 1.25= 431.25 seconds, 7:11 per mile down to 345 x 1.15 = 396.75 seconds, 6:36 per mile.
As you can see that is a fairly large range. For most athletes running 45mins at the slow end of the pace range is really just a good day of regular running in terms of effort. That is exactly the idea. This is an area of pace that we often don't train at all and you can reap huge fitness gains but targeting this no mans land between regular training pace and threshold pace.
The key to these sessions is to start very easy right at the start of the base phase. Head out and do 45mins at 1.25 times your goal pace. This should be a nice light session. A week or so later go 50 to 60mins at the same pace. Again this should be fairly easy. Once you go 1:10 or so at this pace, week 3 or 4 you should drop down to 45mins again but pick up the pace. Ideal if you have the time to cycle through 3 times you can do 1.2 times pace for the second time through and after you build up to 1:10 at that pace you can drop down to 45mins at 1.15 times goal pace. If you don't have to do this if you don't have the time you can just jump down to 1.15 for the second cycle but you will find that to be a pretty decent jump in effort.
These runs in the base phase can really, as Bill Squires used to say, put the tiger in the cat. Once you are through the base phase it is a great idea to mix these in when you have a spot for a moderate effort during your specific training phase.
what is the goal of this session- big aerobic improvement, learn to run quickly relaxed.
What is the effort- all about control. You want to learn to run quickly for an extended time without working very hard. Tired after but smooth during.
When to do this session- mostly in the base phase though it can be mixed in to varying degrees at other times of the year depending on your exact needs and schedule.