Getting into the Tempo

Ok, I will completely honest and admit that I have never Incorporated tempo runs into any of my half- or full-marathon training programs. Bad, I know. While reading other folks’ blogs and comments, I have realized that the tempo run is an important component of any long-distance training plan. It funny that so many Internet sources say that tempo runs are a critical part of any training program, but I have out of the loop about them for so long. Let’s just call it plausible deniability. It seems that I have been training wrong, because I run my long runs as close to my half- or full-marathon pace as possible. Then, for the most part, I would keep that pace during a race because of my competitive nature. Now, I realize that I should not be training in this way, because of potential injury.

It it kind of funny that I am a biomedical scientist, and I never really apply my molecular

Lactate, the molecule.

biology knowledge to training. Basically, tempo runs improve your lactate production threshold i.e. reducing the amount of lactic acid produced and run longer without muscle fatigue. Obviously, I know about lactate production, glycolysis, aerobic respiration, Krebs Cycle and all of the that scientific “mumbo jumbo.”  I guess that I have been to lazy to apply my biomedical background to anything outside of cancer research.

Boring Science Stuff:

***Simply put, the breakdown of glucose (a six-carbon molecule) through glycolysis leads to the production of two pyruvate (a molecule with a three-carbon backbone) molecules. Under anaerobic conditions, the two pyruvate molecules are converted into lactate by lactate dehydrogenase.

Pyruvate to lactate conversion.

Typically, when I think of anaerobic respiration, I do not think of muscle fatigue . . . I think of alcohol and cheese production. *Man, a gin martini sounds so nice right now.* In aerobic conditions, the pyruvate molecules are converted into acetyl CoA (a molecule with a two-carbon backone molecule) after the release of one carbon dioxide molecule, which goes through the Krebs cycle. Through a series of oxidation-reduction reactions and the electron transport chain, the mitochondria produces a large amount of energy molecules (aka adeninosine triphosphate, ATP).

cellular respiration

Per glucose molecule, the number of ATP molecules produced are: 36 (aerobic respiration) and 2 (anaerobic respiration). This process also applies to breaking down lipids/fats and proteins into energy molecules. ***

Tempo Runs:

According to an article published in (***), there are four types of tempo runs that can be incorporated into any training program. I am sure that there are more out there, but I will focus on these four to keep it simple.

  1. Traditional Tempo – Begin the run with a 1-mile warm-up and cool down. Run at a pace that’s 30-45 seconds slower than a 5K race pace.
  2. Tempo Intervals – Start and end with a 1-mile warm-up and cool-down. Alternate between 5-minute fast and 5-minute slow intervals. The fast intervals should be 25-30 seconds slower than a 5K race pace.
  3. Race-pace Tempo – Warm-up and cool-down for one mile, then run the designated miles at a marathon pace. I think, I was unknowingly doing this type of tempo run, in my previous training programs. But, I guess these tempo runs should not be done during all of your long runs, because of potential burnout and injury.
  4. Negative Split Tempo – Run out at easy pace for a few miles, then run the same distance at a tempo pace. This tempo actually sounds a little fun and extremely beneficial.

I am sure that there are plenty more (and more descriptive) types of tempo runs, but I think that I will start with these for now, especially with the Negative Split Tempo.  Matter of fact, I think that I will do a traditional tempo for today’s run.

Heart Rate Training:

On the other hand, there is a plethora of resources that suggest using your heart rate to

Team Incirlik running program
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Phelps/ Released)

improve your lactate threshold (***). You train by staying in a specific heart rate zone, based on your max rate (zone 1: 60-70%, zone 2: 71-80%, zone 3: 81-93%, and zone 4: 94-100%), which can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220. However, we know that these one-fit-all type of calculations, (i.e. using BMI) can be very inaccurate, because everyone is different.  Although I am not an expert in this type of training, I do not think that I will use this method for my training goals. For one, I do not 100% trust my Fitbit heart rate monitor. Plus, there are so many other factors (fatigue, body and environment temperature, levels of hydration, etc.) that can affect your steady state heart rate. Perhaps, these factors are the reason why this method uses range values (i.e. 71-80% of max heart rate) rather than specific values. Finally, it would be too many numbers for me to remember during tiring runs. The heart rates for my zones:

  • Zone 1: 109 – 128
  • Zone 2: 128 – 146
  • Zone 3: 148 – 170
  • Zone 4: 172 – 183

For the Fibit Surge, I know that you can setup parameters so that you are notified when you are in a specific zone. It just seems easier, in my opinion, to use race pace conditions for the tempo runs.

Do you factor in heart rate zones when doing tempo runs?


  1. As a scientist, I should be more into checking my stats, but I don’t. I don’t normally wear a heart rate monitor because I like running by feel more. By constantly checking my heart rate, I feel that I’m not actually listening to my body and that a watch is telling me what to do. That being said, I do adjust my pace after every mile when Strava tells me what my splits are. LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m a molecular biologist/biochemist. I study chromatin dynamics and gene regulation through in vitro methods. 🙂 I’m looking to transition off the bench though so I’m currently job hunting. I’m defending in exactly 2 weeks. Eek!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Molecular immunology and oncology (now called “immuno-oncology”) for me. I study the biological effects of my company’s small molecule inhibitors against macrophage migratory inhibition factor (MIF).

        I’m trying to get off the bench, too. But, it has really been tough for me – the whole overeducated/underqualified thing.

        Good luck on your defense. As someone who has gone through the process, do not stress too much over the private defense. Do you have any job leads?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks! I had my private defense already, but with my school, my committee hadn’t read my dissertation yet so I’m finishing it up as we speak. LOL. I’m a bit nervous about my public defense because I don’t know what people will ask. What if I don’t know anything? LOL. I’ve applied to a few jobs, but because I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with trying to graduate, I haven’t seriously looked. I am currently interviewing for a Technical Applications Scientist position so my fingers are crossed. Is it not possible for you to move up in your company? Maybe something more with a managerial role? I hate that whole overeducated/underqualified excuse. They just don’t want to pay you what you’re worth. Good luck with your job search!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m sure that you know more than enough for the public defense. Oh and good luck with the job interview.

        I purposely held my public defense at 9 AM, so a lot of people would not attend. 😉 At my school, both the public and private defenses are held on the same day. Matter of fact, my private defense was delayed 45 minutes because one of my committee members still had not finished reading my dissertation.

        My company is a very small start-up and I was kind of passed over for a more “manager” type position, so I’m looking to exit, stage left.

        I’m even willing to take a pay cut to get my foot in the door and move up. So many companies that I have been looking at want 1-2 year prior experience in their industry. I find this so outrageous!! I think that someone with a Ph.D. and a few years of a post-doc can satisfy this requirement.


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