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How to Blow a Tempo Run (and Recover)

I was SO excited on Sunday night.  SO. EXCITED.  I haven't done proper tempo work in a long time and I had a green light from my coach to try a moderate tempo effort on Monday morning. I pre-made my breakfast, laid out my clothes, stashed an extra set of gloves as well as the kids' lunches in the car right away so I couldn't forget the next morning.  I was pretty excited, more excited than I've been in awhile.  

Which probably explains why I made such a facepalm-worthy mistake.  

Now, there are many reasons to do tempo runs but too many runners overstate their importance and want to jump into them before they are ready.  Tempo runs are THE hardest run each week, much faster than race pace, and as far as race prediction runs go this is the one coaches look at in the 6 weeks leading up to a race, not the long run.  Tempos, in and of themselves, do not make you faster they improve efficiency, confidence, and neuromuscular coordination at faster paces.  The key to tempos is that they are pace-driven. Setting paces is an art form rooted in science, and without appropriate paces you're not running a tempo effort you're just wasting your energy and risking injury.  

I know this, I KNOW this, I know this. I haven't performed a tempo run outdoors since....2012.  In Houston, with a pace group.  My ego was so eager to hear that I was READY for tempo runs that it drowned out any reminders that I purchased my Polar last summer.  

As you can see from the link above, I started off fine, got my 2-mile warm-up in, then set out to run the first of 3 consecutive miles at 7:47. A pace I used to know instinctively but haven't really visited lately. A pace fast enough to be challenging, but a run short enough that it wouldn't sap me for days; over the course of my training cycle these will become considerably faster and considerably longer.  I hit the lap button and took off, wanting to see if I remembered this pace as well as I expected to and resisting the urge to look at my watch.

Half a mile in, I look down and see 9:31.  Frustrated, I pick up the pace, count to 20, then check again: 8:45. I kept this up for another 2 minutes before cutting my losses; my effort levels were too high for a tempo effort and I didn't want to throw my week away.  I hit the lap button and slowed to a walk. "0.85 miles, avg lap pace: 7:33" flashed on the screen.  I started cursing immediately: I'd been speeding up because I'd been looking at the average pace FOR THE WORKOUT instead of the avg pace in the lap.  Crap.  What now?  I continued walking as I evaluated my options.  I got out of bed that morning to go get something and I was NOT going to go back home empty-handed. 

A tempo effort is too slow to be considered 'speed development' and my speeds hadn't come close to those zones but my effort levels had. My heart rate had only hit 177 and was dropping pretty quickly; I waited till my heart rate fell below 150 and tested its response with a pickup.  It fell, not as quickly as I would like, but enough.  My confidence was shot; I didn't want to try to hold one pace for the duration so the next 2 miles would be 800 progressions; I would start at race pace and pick up the effort every half mile until I hit the 5-mile mark, then I would run the clock out on my cooldown (my time target was 60 minutes).  I ran until I no longer felt controlled, then slowed to a jog as I crossed the 5-mile mark.  I jogged, then walked, and my heart rate wouldn't come down low enough so I shuffled along, decreasing my pace as much as I could until the heart rate was back under control, which took nearly 8 minutes.  I continued shuffling until my timer beeped, my hour was over. 

So there you have it.  My Polar is NOW set with a correct display for outdoor tempo work.  I will make other mistakes but not that one twice.  Next time something gets in the way, don't quit.  Ask yourself, "what do i need to get from today's workout?" and find some way to do it.

If you can't think of one or aren't sure, ASK ME.  It's my job, and I love loving you and coaching you. 24/7

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