I first heard of tempo runs in Fall 2001 when I was training for my first triathlon, the Treasure Island Triathlon, where I completed the Olympic Distance race (in a snail’s pace 4:08). That race changed my life in so many ways. Training for it with Team in Training and raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society got my mind focused on something much bigger and more significant than just my own worries. The training forced me to reach more deeply into the gritty, raw part of me that I had rarely had to tap otherwise. And the racing pumped me so full of satisfaction that I just wanted more. I didn’t do another triathlon for 4 years but once I got back to racing for the second time, I knew I’d be at it for the rest of my life.
But I digress. The point of this post is about tempo runs. My incredible first tri coach, Aaron King, used to talk about tempo runs as a tool to help train your body to run faster. Since I didn’t care about speed at that time in my life, I let those lessons mostly wash over me. Each time I’ve trained for an endurance event since then, the term has always crept up and I’ve always managed to ignore it. Until now.
I did my first tempo run yesterday. According to the books and guides I’ve been reading, tempo runs are supposed to be “comfortably hard,” meaning that you run at a pace you can sustain but faster than you would normally run. There are probably a lot more details ways to explain the idea but that’s what I stuck with. Since my Boston qualifying time will require me to run a 8:30min mile, I kept that pace in my mind as a goal. Tempo runs are not long runs. Starting with a 5-10 minute jogging warm-up and finishing with a jogging cool-down of equal time, the core of the workout is about 20 minutes of focused hard running.
I was surprised to have found my first tempo run extremely satisfying. I was nervous that it would be hard to maintain the pace…and it was. But after 2 Gu shots (with caffeine), I was ready to power through it and I did. I was also surprised that with my goal firmly in my mind and a serious focus on the task, I didn’t find it terribly difficult to maintain my pace. In the end, my tempo run was 2.5 miles. The average speed of the first mile was 9:08 and the second was 9:05. I’m SUPER pleased with those numbers. I figure that if I can get that close to my goal on the first time I ever attempt a tempo run, I should only get closer as I get stronger.
I’m less and less confident that qualifying for Boston is going to happen for me this year. I’m just not sure I have enough time to train for the magnitude of the goal. I am now EXTREMELY confident that if I keep up my training and continue to bring the enthusiasm, I’ll get there. They’ve been running this race for a very long time…I’m sure they’ll wait another year for me if they have to!