I have a confession.
I haaaaaate tempo runs.
With a passion.
Tempo runs, just so we’re clear, are a kind of speedwork — typically at least 20 minutes of moderate to “comfortably hard” effort. Depending on who’s telling you to do a tempo run, the pace may mean anywhere from “1 minute per mile slower than 5K pace” or “1 minute per mile faster than half marathon/10K pace” or “7 out of 10 in effort” or “hard enough so you can’t really carry on a conversation but you aren’t gasping for breath.” There are probably recommendations based on heart rate (70% of your max or whatever) but I’ve never used a heart rate monitor in my life so when workouts and articles speak in those terms my eyes glaze over. It’s a pace you can sustain but will leave you feeling at least a little winded by the end. Tempo runs are supposedly incredibly effective.
Tempo runs absolutely suck.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m typically a solo runner. Sticking to one specific pace when you’re out on your own is effin’ hard, even if you have a handy-dandy GPS watch. I can’t run on a treadmill at a single steady pace — I have to do short intervals, messing with the speed or incline at least every 90 seconds on those things or I go crazy.
This makes it really, really hard to do tempo runs when a training plan calls for them or when I just want to punish myself or get that “I ran until I almost puked and it was awesome” feeling.
This, I’ve learned, is when it’s time to find a group to run with. I learned this a couple years ago when I started running with a group that met near the harbor once a week. I was friends with a couple of the (male) regulars and there was usually a group of at least 4-5 guys who would run the 5 miles around an 8:00 pace.
At that time, most of my runs were in the 8:15 – 8:30 pace, or a little slower.
But on those nights, I found myself able to hang on at that 8:00 pace (the course was a mostly flat out-and-back with no stoplights, which made it fairly easy to hold a steady pace) with the guys.
Earlier this year, I started somewhat regularly taking Onyx to another group that met once a week for 3-5 mile social runs. When it got too hot, I had to leave Onyx behind and even on days when I’d get there and tell myself “I just want to take it easy tonight,” I’d wind up chasing the front of the pack, often running 3 miles at a sub-8:00 pace. The cool thing is I’d be cruising along, feeling like I was taking it easy, then looking down at my watch and going “holy shit, 7:40??“
So, two things:
1) I am incredibly competitive.
2) When you run with people, it’s a lot easier mentally to push your normal pace.
Bonus 3) Even if you like to run on your own, just one run a week (or every other week) can be good for you: it breaks up your routine, pushes you out of your comfort zone (both physically and socially, maybe), and gives you a chance to meet other runners, who in general tend to be pretty cool.
And to sum up: Want to get faster without hating your workouts or wanting to die? Find some friendly runners who are just a liiiitle bit faster than you. Run with them once in awhile. Boom, done.
You can thank me when you’ve PRed.