A few years back, I was doing an evening run with a local group. Shortly after we started, one of my running buddies glanced at a group who had surged quickly ahead. She said contemptuously, “I thought this was supposed to be a tempo run.”
And I was thinking, “What the hell is a tempo run?”
Yes, I’d heard the term, and even read a description or two, but I couldn’t make any sense of out of it. Something about starting a little slower, running almost as fast as you can for the middle distance, then cooling down at the end. But my problem back then was that I was always running as fast as I could. I had two speeds: running and not running. For me, it wasn’t a subtle art.
Fast forward a few years. I’ve built a good base of miles, so I’ve got the endurance. I’ve learned how to structure a useful speed training workout on the track. I’ve gradually, with a few exceptions, figured out how to pick the appropriate pace for the distance I’m covering. But I still can’t figure out the tempo run. (Throw in all that stuff about lactate thresholds and oxygen use and ... well, let's just say it gets a little complicated for a gal who, just this week, used the imaginary word "scientifical" while making a presentation to a group of doctors, nurses and health care professionals.)
Last Thursday, for example, I set out for an approximately 9K run, and thought might provide a good opportunity to break the tempo code. I read up on tempo runs in one of my favourite running books, Run Less, Run Faster. It described a 2K warm up, followed by approximately 5K at a challenging but manageable pace, then a cool-down of approximately 2K. But during my first 2K, I found myself with a deadly case of Lead Legs that I just couldn’t seem to shake. Plus, it was slippery, hilly and cold. So when I got to the 2K mark, I just thought, “naaahhh”, and settled for what was a lot more like a long, steady Sunday run.
That’s only the most recent example. Somehow I just can’t seem to slow myself down at the start and then push myself hard mid-run. Truth be told, it’s making me feel like a bit of a suck.