This article is courtesy of McMillan Running, a recommended resource for distance coaches and runners.
By Greg McMillan, M.S.
I’m going to be honest. Tempo runs and I don’t get along. I always struggle with them and, while I know they’re good for me, I dread them.
I’m more of a speedster-type runner so I naturally gravitate toward intense, track-type workouts. Tempo runs (continuous runs at lactate threshold, near your one-hour race pace) are a weird effort for me. They’re fast but not too fast, and I find it difficult to ride this line between easy and hard. Other speedsters have told me they often struggle more with tempo runs than their endurance-monster friends, so I know I’m not alone.
It’s one thing to simply not like a workout, but it’s worse when you can’t execute one correctly, and that’s what happens with me during tempo runs. I just can’t seem to hold myself back enough, and I start pushing the pace in the second mile or so. This tendency to start going too fast (and believe me, I’ve worked on correcting this error) causes me to have to cut my tempo runs short, more often than not. The result is that I’m not getting in the volume at my lactate threshold that I want and desperately need.
But I’ve found a way to work around this, using a workout called “Minutes” that I learned from Gabriele Rosa, who coached the best marathoners of the 1990s and early 2000s. It’s similar to what Jack Daniels, elite coach and author of Daniels’ Running Formula, calls cruise intervals — where the runner breaks a tempo run into smaller chunks — but it’s even more extreme for runners like me who tend to run too fast at tempo pace.
TRICK THE TEMPO
In this workout, alternate running 1 minute at tempo run pace with 1 minute at easy run pace, for a total of 20 to 60 minutes. I typically start with 10 times 1 minute on, 1 minute off at the start of my stamina training phase and build to 25 to 30 times.
With this workout, I never get to the point where I start pushing too fast, because the minute is over quickly. This allows me to overcome the problem of turning the run into more of a race. But I’ve noticed over time (and this is what Rosa taught) that my “slow” minute gradually gets faster so that by the end of my tempo run phase, there really is little difference between my “on” and “off” minutes. In the end, I stay in my stamina training zone for more of the workout and am able to get in more training at my lactate threshold than I would if I just ran a tempo run.
Is a Minutes workout better than a tempo run? Probably not, but it’s better than constantly failing to execute my tempo runs. The best thing is, after leaning heavily on Minutes workouts in my stamina phase, by the end of this four-to eight-week period I can actually finish a proper tempo run. I just need a bit more lead-up than my endurance-oriented training partners.
- When you run a Minutes workout, it’s important to remember that the “off” minute isn’t a slow jog but is run at your normal easy run pace. If you run too slowly on the “off” minute, you’ll end up running too fast on the “on” minute and change the session from a stamina workout to a speed workout. Over time, you’ll notice the pace stays pretty fast throughout with less variation between “on” and “off” minutes. That’s when you know you have it dialed in.
- Always do a large volume of Minutes in order to keep the pace under control. I may start with 10 times 1 minute, but I must soon increase to 20-30 times 1 minute; otherwise, I’ll get carried away. Big volumes of Minutes are the only way to keep speedsters from going too fast.
- Use Minutes as a great first workout in a training plan. It helps you regain your sense of effort and pace and gives you a quick boost of fitness without the worry of hitting splits.
- One of the best things about a Minutes workout is that you can do it anywhere, anytime, as a fun, effective session. No marked course (or GPS watch)? No problem. Just do a Minutes workout. Pressed for time? Lace them up and start doing Minutes.
SAMPLE “MINUTES” PROGRESSION
(Run one workout every seven-14 days during your stamina phase)
Start with your usual warm-up
10 × 1 minute on / 1 minute off
15 × 1 minute on / 1 minute off
20 × 1 minute on / 1 minute off
25 × 1 minute on / 1 minute off
30 × 1 minute on / 1 minute off
End with your usual cool-down
WARNING: Don’t run too fast when “on” or too slow when “off.” Keep the “on” pace in your stamina zone, not your speed zone.
If you’re a speedster like me, I hope Minutes will help you boost your lactate threshold and become better at tempo runs. If you’re more of an endurance monster, I hope Minutes can add some fun to your stamina training phase.
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