Wise Running

Train smart, eat well, and enjoy the run.

Ask P. Mark: The Difference Between a Tempo Run and Intervals

This was the first question posted to me via the Ask P. Mark page.
Please visit that page to post a new question.  Thanks!

Q:  What is the difference between a tempo run and an interval?

A:  The short answer is that in an interval workout, you speed up and slow down several times.  In a tempo run, however, you gradually build up to the target pace and hold it until it is time to slow down for a cooldown.

There are a few people who will do more than one tempo run within a long run.  This is an advanced maneuver that I do not recommend for the average runner.

Here are the definitions for the Tempo and Intervals that I gave on the Getting Faster post:

Intervals

Intervals are a lot like repeats, but have a different goal in mind.  While repeats are about increasing raw speed, intervals are more about maintaining your new speed over a distance.  Because of this, intervals should be at a little bit longer distance.  Aim for a distance that you could complete in less than 5 minutes.  800 meters (1/2 mile) is a common distance for interval training.

  • Run your intervals at race pace, but no faster.  Remember: Race pace is the pace at which you could run a 5K now, NOT the pace that you hope to achieve later.
  • Instead of being fully rested as you did in repeats, interval training does not allow for full rest.  The time between intervals should be about the same time as you took to run the last interval.  Unlike repeats, you jog during the recovery time between intervals.
  • Since the distances are longer than the distance for repeats, the number of intervals that you complete in one workout should be less.  You can do 3-8 intervals as long as you continue to maintain your relaxed form.

Tempo Runs

If you are racing longer distances, then you will want to practice running faster for even longer periods of time.  This is the goal of a tempo run.

  • Run your tempo miles a little slower than race pace, about 80-90% of the full effort that you would use in a 5k race now.
  • Tempo runs can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on your fitness and goals.
  • You can choose to do one or more tempo runs as part of a longer run or have it as a stand-alone workout.  In either case, make sure that you run a warmup and a cooldown in addition to the tempo miles.
  • To get faster, seek the combination of distance & speed that pushes you consistently near the limit of what you can maintain.  If you can’t maintain relaxed form, you are pushing too fast or too long.

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