Marathon tempo workouts in the city

5 best marathon tempo workouts

At some point in your marathon career you’ll come to the point where finishing a marathon is no longer enough. You might want to go for the next challenge and set yourself a time goal (running sub-three hours for example).

Meet: tempo work. Doing your daily run in the park will no be sufficient as a training routine and you’re going to need to look for tempo and interval workouts to increase your running speed. Search no more! Here are my five favourite marathon tempo workouts that should become a staple in your marathon training.

Tempo workouts versus interval workouts

Before we dive into my top 5 tempo workouts, let’s discuss the difference between tempo training and interval training.

As the name implies, interval training consists of multiple intervals (sessions) with periods of rest (often easy jogging) in between those sessions. A common interval session, often performed on a track is for example:

10 x 400 meter fast running with 200 meter easy jogging in between. The 400 meter fast you should run at 5k pace.

A tempo run on the other hand is a longer run on threshold pace (basically the pace you can hold for about 1 hour) or a little below threshold pace. However, a tempo run can be done in intervals. In fact there’s some benefits to doing tempo intervals. I will get to that below.

1. 20-30 minute tempo run

When training for my first marathon this workout was the bread and butter of my speed work. It is also the simplest and most straight forward.

  • 10 minutes warm up
  • 20-30 minutes at threshold pace
  • 10 minutes cool down

This one’s good if you are a beginner runner, or early in your training cycle. With it’s relative short duration its impact is low enough that you don’t need much recovery afterwards, but it is long enough to get a feel of running at threshold pace. It is great way for beginner runners to up their game and get some experience with structured workouts.

2. Tempo interval session

This is a variation on the tempo run. Instead of running in one go, break it up in several 1 mile (1600m) blocks with 3 minutes easy jogging in between:

  • 10 minute warm up
  • 5 X 1 mile with 3 minutes rest
  • 10 minutes cool down

The benefit of this tempo interval as opposed to the tempo run is that by breaking your running up, you can increase your total time of running at threshold pace with the same impact (because you take time to recover).

3. Tempo triplet run

For more experienced runners tempo triplet, as I call it, is another great tempo workout. It is basically a prolonged tempo interval. However this one is not done at threshold pace, but at marathon goal pace.

  • 20 minute warm up
  • 3 X 15 minutes @ threshold pace with 2 minutes easy jogging in between
  • 15 minutes cool down

The further you get in your training cycle, the longer the intervals get: 15 minutes, 18 minutes, 20 minutes). Later you can switch to two sessions of 30 minutes and 1 minute rest in between. This one is significantly harder to perform than the first two workouts, and more tailored to experienced runners.

4. 60+ minute tempo run

The title says it all: 60 minutes tempo run. This one you should also not do at threshold pace, but marathon goal pace. I always start with 20 minutes warm up and 20 minutes cool down, so it adds a little extra volume to my running, but you can do a little less

  • 10-20 minute warm up
  • 60 minutes at marathon pace (this can be increased to 75 minutes)
  • 10-20 minute cool down

This one should not be done every week, as it is also significantly more demanding than the first tempo workouts. But this one is great to toughen the mind. For experienced runners I would definitely suggest adding one or two into the training cycle somewhere towards the end of the training.

5. Long run with tempo block(s)

This is my favourite, and the most demanding of all tempo runs in this list. It’s long, it’s tough, it demands time to recover, but it is a great great way to test racing. And if you have one of those days when this workout goes smooth, then this is the best confidence boost for race day.

  • 110 minutes long run at easy pace
  • 25 minutes at marathon pace
  • 1 minute easy jogging
  • 25 minutes at marathon pace
  • Cool down

I use this one to test my racing gear: shorts, shirt, shoes, gels, water. I also try to mimic the course as much as possible.

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