Tempo Shmempo

Or…how NOT to do a tempo run.

I was inspired by a kick-ass speedwork session that Colby had yesterday morning. So inspired that I decided on the train home last night that I would try doing a “tempo” run this morning. My first. Plan was a 1 mile warm-up, 4 mile tempo, 1 mile cooldown (yes, Colby, I googled how to do a tempo run while on the train-are you impressed?).

Alas, I am the yang to Colby’s yin, and my tempo run did not go off quite as well as her speedwork. Here are some tips on how NOT to do a tempo run and general musings on my less-than-stellar experience…

Day before –

1. Make sure you have a busy day with lots of meetings and little time to hydrate. Well, plenty of time to hydrate, but feel self conscious about taking too many bathroom breaks for fear that colleagues think you have some weird condition, so drink water sparingly. Attend business lunch where you’re allergic to pretty much everything. Make do by eating only different kinds of salads, ancient grains and fruits. Studiously avoid anything that might be easy on the stomach.

2. Make sure you don’t get home until around 8:45. Make the mistake of mentioning “Dunkin Donuts” in front of your kids so that you are forced to watch, memorize and rap along with Big Papi and Gronk in the Dunkie’s commercial for 45 minutes (Cup Solo!) when all you want to do is floss, brush and collapse. BUT: Gronk! Big Papi!

Morning of-

1. Wake up around 4:20 thanks to a woodpecker. Give him the finger (he doesn’t care) and realize that you will never go back to sleep. Watch part of an episode of Real Housewives of Somewhere and then follow it with a bit of Burt Wolf’s “Travels and Traditions” on PBS so you feel better about yourself and your TV viewing habits.

2. Decide at 5 that you will get up and do your run early, before getting kids ready for school. Get out of bed and make the mistake of checking work e-mail. Spend next 40 minutes revising something for a client in London (those Brits have 5 hours on us!! Not fair!) that came in over night.

3. Drink a Vitamin Water Energy like it is your job. And it is, because you have to leave for your run by 6 and it’s the only fuel you are getting. The window for eating solid food passed around an hour earlier and you do not want to puke on your first tempo run. Or any run, for that matter.

4. See note on counter that today is Field Day at school and Stooge #1 has to bring a nut-free, fully disposable snack and lunch (preferably in recyclable packaging). Dammit! Now run has to be followed immediately by trip to deli to pick up food that meets the guidelines. All this house has to offer is PB&J. So much for post-run stretching. Realize you now have extra incentive to hit your tempo pace because you have not yet left the house and already are short on time.


1. Start off with an easy 1-mile warm up. Feel like you’re already working hard. Not good. Probably just hungry, dehydrated, sleep-deprived or stressed. Possibly all of the above.

2. Kick off the 4 mile tempo run. Mile 1: OK but working hard. Feels a little too hard for mile 1. Nervous.

3. Mile 2: not feeling strong and realize you have chosen a route with some hills. You’re a fool. A tired, dehydrated fool. Nervous and miserable. Wonder if you have undiagnosed asthma and that is why you are sucking wind. Know deep down that this is not the case.

4. Mile 3: – realize that you did the freaking math wrong and if you do 4 miles at tempo, the run will end at your house and you will not have any cool down before you jump in the car and head to local deli. Even you know that this is a Very Very Bad Idea. Decide on the fly that this will be a 3 mile tempo run so you can have a 1 mile cool down. Feel secretly happy that you only have to do 3 miles at this pace, because you are sucking wind and still 2 seconds above what Google told you should be your tempo pace (5K pace + 30 seconds). Miserable and bad at math. A winning combo.

5. Realize Google suggested you wear a heart monitor and you forgot. Figure it is for the best, because it probably would be sounding an alarm for a defibrillator right about now. This is not pleasant. Or as Google put it, “comfortably hard.”

6. Finish Mile 3 of tempo run. Actually end up making your goal pace, but know that it is because you raced the last half mile and that does not seem to be the right thing to do for a tempo run (Note: Check Google on this). Your first tempo run and you cheated. Who cares, you’re done and can run like a normal person now.

7. Enjoy cool down portion of the run – the grass seems greener, the sky seems bluer. Smile. Enjoy returning to regular breathing. Pass a house that smells like pancakes. Wonder who the hell is making pancakes at 6:45 AM on a Wednesday. Wonder if they wonder who the hell is running like a lunatic at 6:45 AM on a Wednesday. Wonder if your kids would rather have a mom who was home making pancakes instead of out running. Remember that you watched the damn Dunkie’s commercial 8000 times last night and even promised to buy them the big Gronk sunglasses and realize you don’t care if they wish you were home making pancakes. They can have pancakes on the weekend. After you run.

8. Get to the bottom of your street and realize that you actually could have done 4 miles at tempo and still gotten in a ½ mile cool down. You misjudged the route. Oh, well. {Thank God you are bad at both math and route planning. THANK GOD. Mile 4 may have killed you.}

9. Feel proud of yourself for trying something new and at the same time, wonder whether it would be best to go back to Tina Marathon Training 1.0, which generally involves the following: Run. Kinda a lot. Do some long runs. Make sure to rest sometimes. Repeat.

10. Start your day.

I think I will try a tempo run again. They are miserable enough that they must be good for you. Just not anytime soon. I need to forget this one first.

Who else does tempo runs? Any tips for how to do them? I think I have covered how not to do them pretty well, if I do say so.

35 thoughts on “Tempo Shmempo

  1. I have a serious love hate relationship with tempo runs. I hate them…but totally love them and think they are crucial in training!! Good on you for what you accomplished!! 🙂

  2. Dammit. Why don’t we get Big Papi raps in south Florida?! Oh wait…….. Yes. That is all I’m taking away from your pain, misery, and lack of breathable oxygen. And the now undying need for pancakes. Shaped like Mickey Mouse. BECAUSE THERE IS NO OTHER KIND.

  3. This was hilarious to read! I’ll be honest: I’ve probably done like one legit tempo run in my running career and yours went way better than mine, if that’s saying anything! Also, think I’m now destined to be hearing that cup solo on repeat in my head for the rest of the day… Thanks for that! 😉

    • CUP SOLO!!! We’ve been practicing. My 9-year old (who is the human equivalent of Colby’s Drunk Otis) has been asking for his own YouTube channel for ages. We may have to set one up just for cup solo outtakes.

  4. Ugh I hate and dread tempos! I always feel like it’s going to be the death of me while I’m doing it. But unfortunately I do feel like they are necessary for getting speedier at long distances :/ I would rather bust out 800s than do a tempo though…

  5. At least you had your shoes on! You could’ve been shoeless. Which, + drunk otis, would basically make you a hobo. I like tempos because it is about hitting a pace. I don’t have the mental capacity for sprinting and shiz

  6. Who else is thinking “REAL RUNNERS OF CONNECTICUT” when they read about the adventures of these two!!!

    I am slow enough now so that my tempo run is what my “easy” run used to be. But TEMPO’s and HILL REPEATs make me question my love of all things running.

    • Now it seems like you are cussing at me. HILL REPEATS? Tried them once and it was too close to a construction site- first the guys came to see if I was OK (mentally and physically) and THEN THEY WATCHED WHILE THEY ATE THEIR LUNCH. I was scarred. #neveragain

      Real Runners of CT – now there’s an idea. I’ll call my friend Andy Cohen. Get your Spartan headband ready.

  7. When I first read the title I thought you were going to write about Shemp and you had misspelled his name. My marathon program is similar: run a lot, run a little, pray that you don’t get injured in July and hope it all works out in the end.
    Three Stooges Curlys in order of importance – #1 – Original Curly, # 2 Shemp, # 3 Curly Joe Besser. I think Gronk could star in a remake as Curly any day.

    • I would never misspell Shemp’s name. We have some Stooge fans in the house. Big fans of the eye poke. I like the original Curly best, too, and wish they gave another name to Curly Joe. I don’t like recycling of names. Except when my cousins’ dog “Pete” died and they named the next one (same breed) “Re-Pete.” That made me laugh.
      I’m so early in my not-yet-quite marathon training that I forgot about the fear of injury part! That won’t kick in for a few weeks, at least.

  8. When I spoke to you after said Shit Run and asked you why you were hoarse, I had no idea you needed a banana bag. What the hell was that?!?! AMATEUR HOUR??? Please eat. And drink. And for the love of Christ, get some sleep.

    (Says the girl swilling wine after a painfully hot and nauseous run.)

    Thank god we have each other.

  9. I freaking love you.
    Now as far as these things are concerned…total love/hate with them. I’ve had really awesome ones and really NOT awesome ones. This sounds like pretty much the worst…but don’t let it ruin them forever for you!

  10. I hope that I can have an awesome one someday, and I will definitely write about if I do. I know you, of all people, know what it is like to “squeeze” in a run between home commitments. Good God, it’s a wonder we don’t just collapse sometimes!
    Right back atcha with the love. Keep up the good work – you are doing great and you are an inspiration. xo

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