Try Tempo Training For Faster Running!

Doing similar tempo workouts for three-week cycles lets your body reap maximum benefits.

Cindy Kuzma |

Did I miss a km marker? I can’t hold this for three more reps. How does tempo pace feel again?

The first time you do a work­out, you face a number of challenges, from understanding the logistics to knowing your body’s limits. The second time, you start to hit your groove. By the third, your mind and body know what to expect – and you’re ready to crush it. “You’ve put yourself in an uncomfortable situation three times in a row, and now you’ve got a handle on it,” says coach Dr Randy Accetta.

That’s the theory behind Introduce, Improve, Perfect, or IIP – the term for three-week training cycles coined by Accetta and Greg Wenneborg, also a running coach.

Physiologically speaking, your body takes about three weeks to adapt to a new training stress. “Beyond that, you get diminishing returns on that workout,” Wenneborg says. So repeating similar hard workouts three times will maximise the benefits – such as speed, stamina, or endurance – you reap from each one before you move on.

What’s more, IIP – which Accetta pronounces to rhyme with ‘deep’ – offers a mega-dose of confidence. Making minor upgrades each week clearly demonstrates progress. Here’s how to apply IIP strategies to three common types of workouts.


Accetta uses three-week cycles of fast repetitions to help runners hone the pacing, breathing patterns, and mental toughness needed to race well. Typically, the longer the race, the longer the intervals – for instance, marathoners may run repetitions of 1km at 5-K or 10-K pace, or five-plus kilometres at marathon pace. Meanwhile, 5-K runners might go as long as a kilometre at race pace, then incorporate faster bursts as short as 200 metres to improve speed and turnover. Each week, they progress by increasing the number or length of repetitions, boosting the paces, or altering the rest intervals.


Brand-new to faster running? Accetta recommends jogging a kilometre to warm up, then running half a kilometre faster than a jog, followed by one slower; repeat six times. Start conservatively and finish a bit faster, if you can. Do this three weeks in a row – by the third, you’ll probably improve both your consistency and your speed.

More experienced racers, for example, can begin with 10 400-metre repetitions at goal 5-K pace, with 60 to 90 seconds of jogging in between. Week 2, increase the number of repetitions to 12 at the same pace. Week 3, run 12 again, but make each repetition a few seconds faster – taking as much active recovery
as you need in between to hit your targets.


Powering up an incline builds strength, challenges your cardiorespiratory system with less impact than track workouts, and prepares you to race well on courses that aren’t flat. Jabe Hickey, a running coach, uses IIP with her training group of primarily new runners – and keeps hills on the schedule most of the year. Improve and perfect hills by changing the amount of time you spend running uphill or resting in between, increasing your repetitions, or seeking out a steeper incline.


Pick a long hill with a gentle (about two to seven per cent) incline. In week 1, do eight repetitions of running 40 seconds uphill at a comfortably hard pace; walk or jog 20 seconds back downhill to recover. In week 2, run a minute and a half uphill and jog about 45 seconds downhill eight times. Week 3, bump up each of the eight uphills to three minutes, with a minute and a half of recovery.


Shore up your stamina by running at a tempo pace – an effort of about 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 – for a little more time or distance each week. You can also run the same course and aim to cover a bit more distance, pick up the pace slightly, or just feel more relaxed while doing it. Running at this slightly uncomfortable pace improves your body’s ability to clear some of the waste products produced during forceful muscle contractions, so that eventually you’ll be able to sustain the harder effort for longer with less fatigue, Accetta says.


Week 1, warm up for 10 minutes, run 10 minutes at tempo pace, then cool down for 10 minutes. Add five to 10 minutes of harder running each week. Or keep the duration constant – say, 20 minutes – and aim to cover slightly more ground each week without increasing the effort level significantly, Wenneborg says.


Advanced IIP Coach and 2:48 marathoner Tia Accetta (Randy’s wife) pushes some athletes harder.

This sequence for experienced runners keeps volume steady for three weeks while the intervals get shorter and faster. Then, runners return to a longer version of the original workout.

Week 1
5 x 1 km at slightly faster than marathon pace, with 1 minute of recovery

Week 2
10 x 800 metres at tempo pace, with 2 to 3 minutes of recovery

Week 3
20 x 400 metres just faster than tempo pace, with 200 metres of recovery

Week 4
6 x 1km at slightly faster than marathon pace, with 1 minute of recovery


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