Tempo runs—where you up your pace to 'comfortably hard' (two words that don't fit, right?)—are a necessary evil.
If you’re training for a marathon or a half marathon, chances are your training plan probably incorporates regular tempo runs into your schedule.
Tempo runs are designed to be run at a “comfortably hard” pace, meaning they aren’t quite an all-out sprint, but they still feel fairly miserable the majority of the time. Unlike speed work intervals, there are no rests during tempo runs—it’s just a set amount of miles at a pace that is generally about 30-40 seconds per mile slower than your 5k pace, or an 8 out of 10 on the exertion scale. In other words, rather unpleasant.
As I am currently training to improve my time in the half marathon, I’ve been doing tempo runs regularly. Yes, I’m doing tempo runs in the dead of the South Carolina summer. This unique type of self-flagellation generally results in the following thoughts over the course of my miles:
- At the very beginning: Ok, this pace is not that bad. I must be getting more fit. This is going to be fine.
- After I crest the first hill: Comfortably hard, my ass! I’m going to collapse. I should walk on the downhill. I will not walk on the downhill.
- One mile in, at which point I am inevitably vastly above or below the target pace: How is it possible that I never get this pace right? Is anyone actually capable of running by feel and hitting their target paces? Maybe I can pay one of the neighborhood children to pace me on their bike. Would that be weird?
- As I run panting past the neighbors who are walking their dog: Surely my face is not as red as it feels, right? I bet they can’t even tell I’m sweating. No, they definitely can.
- Halfway through, at which point I am always running too fast: No wonder I feel like I’m dying! Ok, I need to back off a little bit. Not gonna be able to keep this pace up. Crap, now I’m going too slow. IT NEVER ENDS!
- Coming up the last hill before I get back home: ITHINKICANITHINKICANITHINKICANITHINKICAN! Breathe! Breathe!
- Standing in my driveway: Yes! I did it again! One more awesome workout in the bank. A few fast miles closer to race day.
- One hour later when I’m still sweating: Ok, I’m never doing a tempo run again.