Tempo Tuesday: Strength in Numbers


by Marc Almanzan

I don’t recall exactly how it began, but I have a fuzzy recollection of Owen suggesting that we add a weekly Tempo workout to the mix, to which Gavin responded (in a smooth baritone), “Sounds good.”

It was a perfectly simple beginning to Tempo Tuesday, which has now become an FHR mainstay.

I remember we had a huge group show up for Tempo Tuesday on a steamy July night in 2013, probably about 25 runners.  Since the group was so large we had the bright idea of splitting the group in two and sending the runners off in opposite directions so we could give people high fives as we all crushed it doing a few laps of the pond. I know it sounds dorky, but it was awesome. We all went out at our own paces, some in groups, some alone, and we all hung in there running at our individual effort, but still part of the group. As per usual, we cooled down on the lawn between Jamaica Pond and the J-Way afterward, and did some stretches, planks, and other random core exercises.  This is always the best part of the run; the post tempo satisfaction.

So what is a tempo run?  Well, it’s hard to define because it is different for each runner.  It isn’t a pace; rather, it is an effort level.  To do it “right” you should be outside of comfort zone, but not pushing so hard you can’t breathe. You should be able to speak, but only in very short phrases. You’re going to be breathing hard, but you shouldn’t be gasping for breath.  You are pushing, but you aren’t killing yourself with an extreme effort. The science behind a tempo workout deals with the idea of metabolic rate, and pushing your body’s lactate threshold to make you able to run farther and faster. But the beauty of the workout is that you don’t really need to know that or be able to explain it- you just need to be willing to push your pace a little outside your comfort zone for 20-25 minutes to achieve the results. Simple, right?

The even better thing about tempo runs is that even though they are an individual effort, you can really feed on the energy of the other runners around you, knowing that they are pushing themselves as well.  It sounds weird, but I feel like I’d be letting my friends down if I were to show up and just coast through the workout. The accelerator isn’t on the floor, but you definitely keep the pressure on the pedal for the 25 minute workout. On nice nights, in summer especially, the communal energy and satisfaction of a great workout can be seen in the smiling, sweaty faces all around you. Maybe it’s the endorphins talking, but when we finish I feel like we’ve gone through something together, and we’ve emerged on the other side, stronger.

A crucial part of running a tempo run is the ability to keep control of your effort, and keep your effort up for the duration of the workout.  To make this possible FHR runs them on “circuits” that are unbroken by street crossings so we can run without having to stop for traffic lights or cars. Jamaica Pond makes a perfect tempo loop, and the view isn’t bad either.

In the winter months for safety we run these on one of two well-lit loops in close proximity to Stony Brook T.  They are affectionately referred to as Hell Loop A and Hell Loop B.  This isn’t because the loops are particularly difficult or painful; it’s simply because at 0.6 miles long (or 1 kilometer) you may feel trapped like a hamster on a wheel over the course of the workout.  Maybe we should switch “Hell” with “Purgatory?”

Regardless of where we run them these workouts kick ass, and they are a simple and fun way to introduce a little more speed into your running life without worrying about getting too technical about things.  I highly recommend coming to the workout while we are still “stuck” in the Hell Loops, because when we make the leap to Jamaica Pond for the summer months it will feel extra freeing.  Fair warning, Tempo Tuesday will likely be your gateway drug to Track Thursdays, and once you get there, there’s no going back 😉

In conclusion, Tempo Tuesday is one of the best ways to feel like a runner badass, without all the sometimes confusing runner lingo. We’re all in the same loop working together, and we all benefit from the community of runners surrounding us. Just show up, run with a friend, or alone, whatever feels good for you. We are all in the same loop, and we will be better for having you.

See you on the other side.

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