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The Tempo Run

Today I convinced myself to do a tempo workout for my run. The term tempo comes from the latin root tempus meaning “time” and o meaning “Oh my God, what are you doing to yourself!?!?!” The tempo run was a widely accepted “interrogation” technique during the dark ages, but was impractical due to the requirement that the interrogator needed to keep up with the running subject. For some exceptionally fit individuals, turn-about became fair play. This issue was largely the basis for the development of the first treadmills, whose etymology literally means “crush and grind underfoot.” These evolved into the machines we all know today, except that instead of a man with a whip making you run it’s Britney Spears blaring over gym speakers.

Running a tempo means running at a pace that is difficult, but sustainable over the long term. This means you can’t go too fast, so as to blow up and have to stop to rest every few minutes (i.e. interval training). It also means you can’t really ever hope to catch your breath, and in fact, due to the second law of thermodynamics, you will find yourself increasingly out of breath until eventually you pass out. The natural equivalent of the workout is being chased by a very hungry and ferocious beast that can’t quite outrun you, but is persistent.

On the off chance that I encounter such a beast at some point, I thought it would be prudent to practice this strategy in advance. My plan was to run an easy half mile warmup, then ramp up the pace to my perceived effort threshold. The rule is at tempo pace you should not be able to recite the pledge of allegiance without gasping for breath. This doesn’t work for me as I was born in Canada, so I chose the Canadian equivalent: the “Log Driver’s Waltz.” By the time I was “birling down, a down the white water” it was evident the pace was good.

Once a pace is established, all that remains is to try to hang on for as long as possible, or in my case 6 miles. At 2 miles, things felt pretty good. At 3 miles I began questioning my motivation, “Really, only halfway? Seems like longer.” By the time 4 miles rolled around the situation was dire and I would have been hard pressed to get through “Hello, my name is…” Fortunately at this point I remembered my mantra: “You’re not dead yet.” I was a little too close for comfort, however. I think I ran through mile 5, at least that’s what the armadillo on the tricycle told me. Finally 6 miles arrived and my celebration at having finished ensued. In my mind it was a triumphant victory dance, to others it must have resembled the writhings of a sea lion stranded in the desert sun.

With what was left of my strength I started my cooldown as the tunnel vision receded. Passersby stared at me with what I assumed at the time was awe of the feat I had just achieved. Yes, I ran a tempo run people! I did not die, witness the miracle! It was only afterward that I realized the sweat had “pooled” rather unfortunately in the crotch of my shorts and it looked like I had wet myself. I say “looked like” but in reality my recollection of mile 5 is not that great…

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  • http://runnergirltraining.blogspot.com runnergirl training

    Great post! The tempo is indeed an art! :) Good job!

  • Nancy Kerr-Wilson

    Not only hilarious it has confirmed my suspicions that running is not for me. I already have armadillos showing up without the torture so I think I’ll pass on taking up the sport.

  • http://pigtailsflying.wordpress.com TK

    Super funny. But also, fighteningly accurate. I run tempos only under fear of being eaten by a pursuant beast (as you said), or under fear of humilation (the rest of the team is doing it, so I better too unless I want to be called names).

    • Geoff

      Ah peer pressure! Will we ever break the vicious cycle? If “everyone” was running intervals would you too?