Tag Archives: preparation

Ask P. Mark: The Difference Between a Tempo Run and Intervals

This was the first question posted to me via the Ask P. Mark page.
Please visit that page to post a new question.  Thanks!

Q:  What is the difference between a tempo run and an interval?

A:  The short answer is that in an interval workout, you speed up and slow down several times.  In a tempo run, however, you gradually build up to the target pace and hold it until it is time to slow down for a cooldown.

There are a few people who will do more than one tempo run within a long run.  This is an advanced maneuver that I do not recommend for the average runner.

Here are the definitions for the Tempo and Intervals that I gave on the Getting Faster post:


Intervals are a lot like repeats, but have a different goal in mind.  While repeats are about increasing raw speed, intervals are more about maintaining your new speed over a distance.  Because of this, intervals should be at a little bit longer distance.  Aim for a distance that you could complete in less than 5 minutes.  800 meters (1/2 mile) is a common distance for interval training.

  • Run your intervals at race pace, but no faster.  Remember: Race pace is the pace at which you could run a 5K now, NOT the pace that you hope to achieve later.
  • Instead of being fully rested as you did in repeats, interval training does not allow for full rest.  The time between intervals should be about the same time as you took to run the last interval.  Unlike repeats, you jog during the recovery time between intervals.
  • Since the distances are longer than the distance for repeats, the number of intervals that you complete in one workout should be less.  You can do 3-8 intervals as long as you continue to maintain your relaxed form.

Tempo Runs

If you are racing longer distances, then you will want to practice running faster for even longer periods of time.  This is the goal of a tempo run.

  • Run your tempo miles a little slower than race pace, about 80-90% of the full effort that you would use in a 5k race now.
  • Tempo runs can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on your fitness and goals.
  • You can choose to do one or more tempo runs as part of a longer run or have it as a stand-alone workout.  In either case, make sure that you run a warmup and a cooldown in addition to the tempo miles.
  • To get faster, seek the combination of distance & speed that pushes you consistently near the limit of what you can maintain.  If you can’t maintain relaxed form, you are pushing too fast or too long.


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Tips for Your First Marathon

There will never be enough advice in the world to prepare you for what is coming.  Running your first marathon is an adventure in the truest sense of the word.   It is both exhilarating and exhausting beyond your wildest imagination.  Lots of people will have tons of advice, but I would like to focus mine around one basic idea:

Do all of your experimenting in training. 

There should be exactly one thing that is different on marathon day: the distance. Beyond that, every little thing you do during your first marathon should be something that you have done many times before.  Anything that you do, wear, eat, or drink for the first time on marathon day can ruin your race and possibly hurt you.  26.2 miles is a very long way.  I know that you are aware of this, but you need to think about what that means.   If you make a mistake, you may have to live with while running for the next 3 to 7 hours!

Now that I have scared you enough, let’s begin our talk about experimenting!  If you do all of your experimenting ahead of time, then you have little to worry about.  On marathon day, you can simply go out and do what you did in practice.  No big deal, just a little farther than usual.

Training Runs

You do not need to run a marathon in order to train for one.  It is smart, however, to run 16 miles at least two different times during your training.  It will take many weeks of training to build up to that distance slowly and carefully.  The last 16 mile run should be about 3 weeks before the race.  That will give your legs plenty of time to recover.  Thankfully, at the end of that three weeks the rest of your body will still remember your 16 mile runs and the lessons about efficiency that it learned during them.

Clothing & Shoes

What works for a 5K or even a 10K may not work in a marathon.  Make sure that as you are gradually building up mileage, that you are paying attention to what you are wearing.  You are not just training, you are road-testing different outfits and shoes to see which are the best for the really long runs.  Clothes that give you mild chaffing on a 13 mile run will cause bleeding on a 16 or longer.  Lots of marathoners cross their first finish line with blood stained shirts and/or shoes.

In addition to good clothing, it is smart to get some extra help against chaffing.  Body Glide and other products exist to protect parts that seem to chafe no matter what you do.  There are other things like nipple guards, although a band-aid often works just as well.  With all of these clothing-related issues, practice and routine is the key.  If you find what works in your longest training runs, you are much more likely to avoid this dilemma during the marathon.

Food & Drink

Most of us have no interest in going 3-7 hours without a snack and something to drink.  Now figure in the calories burned running and liquid lost sweating.  Thankfully, you do not need to consume as many calories as you burn.  You do, however, need to prepare to consume anywhere from 400 to 1,000 calories on the run.  It varies by your weight, conditioning, and how much time you will take.  Here again, you must experiment on your long runs.  Most runners consume packets of energy gel or some gummy equivalent.  Go to a running store and ask what choices they have.  Try several early in your training program.  Make sure you find the one that best suits you before your 20-milers.  You will want to practice that one source of fuel for all of your long runs in the last 6 to 8 weeks of your training program.

Always start fueling early in the race, specifically before you have gone two miles!  If you don’t start by then, you are very likely to have low blood sugar late in the race.

Drinks are even more critical!  Dehydration can be a huge problem with rookie marathoners.  The current wisdom being shared by running experts is “drink to thirst.”  That means drink when you are thirsty and not when you are not.  Personally, I have to drink a little more than that to be okay.  Guess how I found that out?  Through experimenting, of course.

On the marathon course, plenty of water and sports drinks will be available.  On your training runs, however, you will need to think carefully about how to get your drinks!  Will you carry enough drink to last you 20 miles?  Not me.  I carry enough for ten miles and make sure my running route circles back so I can get refills for the next 10 miles.


Electrolytes are the minerals that keep your nervous system and your muscles running.  You lose electrolytes through sweat.  You sweat a lot in a marathon.  I know that I have run out of electrolytes when my muscle start threatening to twitch. The next stage is full cramping. It often starts in the hamstrings, but can begin anywhere.

While sports drinks offer some electrolytes, many runners find that they run out of electrolytes on a long run.  There are electrolytes in some energy gels, but I have to supplement beyond that.  I live in Knoxville, and I have to take electrolyte supplements throughout the sweating season (April through October).  It IS possible to get too many electrolytes, so find a source and use them sparingly.  Figure out how much you need through experimenting.

Routine, Routine, Routine

Routine is important.  Warm up for a marathon like you warm up for anything else.  Do your stretches and any other part of your running routine the same on marathon day as any other day.  Drink what & how you drank in training.  Wear what you wore in training.


On marathon day, you will still be human.  Plan your potty break before the race, but also be prepared to go during the race.  No body should have to go four, five, or even eight hours without a bathroom break.  There are bathrooms along the route, I promise.

Going the Distance

You may need to walk.  You may have gone out too fast, you may just be legitimately tired.  It is okay to walk part of the way.  Walking will not exclude you from the rank of marathoner.  In fact, there is at least one major marathon expert that touts walking as an important part of his marathon racing strategy.  Personally, I walk through the aid stations.  The Powerade goes down much more smoothly.  :)

The first twenty miles should be just like in practice.  The last 6.2 miles are tough, but you can do this.  If you have taken care of all of the above details, then you can do this last 6.2 miles.  There is no question about it.  You will be pushing longer, but you have been replenishing your supplies of energy, liquid, and electrolytes.  It works the same as the previous 20 miles.  Just put one foot in front of the other.  Do not think about how far you have to go or how far you have gone.  Instead, remember your training runs.  Remember how you pushed yourself to go just a little farther each week.  You know what it is like to challenge yourself and succeed.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and the finish line will find you.

You can do this.  Experiment, practice, and follow your routine all the way to the finish line.


“Train smart, eat well, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor


Check out these books by P. Mark Taylor for more advice on running:


The Gift of Running: A Book for Runners & Future Runners  Wise Running Book COVER mockup


Wise Running: Thoughts on Running and Life

Marathon Training: Love, Hate, and The Taper

“I wanna go fast!”  — Ricky Bobby

Tapering is a time of running lower miles and slower paces as you approach a long race, such as a half or full marathon.  It is designed to help us be ready for the big day…to help us meet our goal.  Amongst my hundreds of runner friends on Twitter, Facebook, and this blog, however, there is a disdain (or at the very least a discomfort) that is often expressed towards the taper.

If the taper can help us meet our goals, why such negative emotions?

Why is it that runners have such a tumultuous relationship with the taper?

For most of us, it can best be described as a love/hate relationship.  Theoretically, we love the taper.  We know that we have been using and abusing our bodies in hill workouts, 20 mile runs, track workouts, pace runs, tempo runs, interval training, and many other torturous yet wonderful ways.  Struggling through these workouts and giving everything we have has built our muscles, our endurance, and our confidence.  Runners love to push themselves.  We pride ourselves on this kind of self-denial.  Push, press, strive!

Here is where the conflict arises.  I have now been training for this marathon for over 4 months.  I have pushed my limits and done all of the aforementioned workouts day in and day out for 17 weeks.    For 119 days, pushing it to the limit was my goal.  The days that I had to take off were horrible!  I was thinking about what I should be running.  Now… after all of this time… you want me to ease up?  You want me rested?  Fewer miles?  Less effort?  Are you absolutely nuts??!!??  Where is the “Dislike” button on this thing!  No. It is absolutely unnatural.  I don’t want to do it.

The conflict continues as our brain reminds us to check in on our body parts.  Feet?  Sore.  Knees?  Swollen.  Calves?  Do you even have to ask?  Hamstrings, quads?  Yes, they are communicating loudly as well.  We know that we need the rest.  We know we need the time to heal.  It makes sense.

In the meanwhile, our spirit cries out for more striving, not less.  Our habits call for more miles, not fewer.  Our hearts love the long run.  That is why we got into this.  We love endorphins.  Let’s go get some more, right?  Wrong.  It is time to taper and heal.  We must stifle the voice crying out for endorphins and go with logic.  Bottle up all of that energy.  Store up all those carbs.  Build up that emotional energy… and pop the cork on all that pressure on race day.

If we taper right, we will be like the champagne bottle coming uncorked on race day.  Our spirit will burst forth at the sounding of the starting gun.  The cap will fly off and all of that conflict, … all of that pressure that we allowed to build through the taper… if we can manage the flow just right… will end up in a PR & all of the endorphins from two weeks flow in one session.  Good times, but only if we taper.

Happy running!

More Quotes for Sports and Life

“Sculptors chisel stone away one stroke at a time to uncover their works of art. Runners chisel their limitations away one workout at a time.” — P. Mark Taylor

“Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity. What’s the point of being realistic?” — Will Smith

“You cannot propel yourself forward by patting yourself on the back.” — Steve Prefontaine

“Commitment: It is what turns a dream into reality.” — Missie Gregory

“I am afraid to fail but even more afraid of what happens when I let fear stop me from trying.”  — Angela Stolpe

“Today I choose to make healthy choices with food,  to exercise, and to be awesome.”  — Michaela Coulter Bergeson‎

“Running is not insanity.   In fact, lack of running may be the leading cause of insanity.”  — P. Mark Taylor

“The marathon is not about the race, it is about the commitment…it’s not about instant gratification, it’s about endurance. It’s not about the thrill, it’s about the passion. To run a marathon, you need to not only commit to the sport, you need to commit to yourself.” — A. L. Zimmer

“If one could run without getting tired, I don’t think one would often want to do
anything else. ”  — C.S. Lewis

“I decided to go for a little run.”  — Forrest Gump

“Life is a series of hard and easy runs.”  — Hal Higdon

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” — Steve Prefontaine

“If the ground was as dangerous as many people think it is, I’d have given up going barefoot LONG ago. Really.”  — Barefoot Michael (http://www.barefootandgrounded.com)

“We do not cease to play as we grow old, We grow old because we cease to play.” — Drew Lachey

“When you run, you log on to yourself. You flip through the pages of your being.” — Kevin Nelson

“The greatest measure of success in any endeavor is not whether you won an award, but how many others you encouraged along the way.”  — P. Mark Taylor

“The difference between a goal and a dream is a deadline.” –Steve Smith

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” — Mark Twain

“Fear is what stops you… courage is what keeps you going.”  –Unknown

“The finish line is just the beginning of a whole new race.” –Unknown

“Strive for progress, not perfection.”  — Unknown

“You want me to do something… tell me I can’t do it.”  — Maya Angelou

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  — Wayne Gretzky

“If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t really trying.”  — Unknown

“You live longer once you realize that any time spent being unhappy is wasted.”  — Ruth E. Renkl

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”  — Mahatma Gandhi

“Motivation will almost always beat mere talent.”  — Norman R. Augustine

“I’d rather be a failure at something I enjoy than a success at something I hate.”   — George Burns

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”  — Benjamin Franklin

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”  — Aesop

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  — Albert Einstein

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude  determines how well you do it.”  — Lou Holtz

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”  — Jim Ryan

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”  — Michael Jordan

“Just do it.”™  — Nike

“In seeking happiness for others, you find it for yourself.”  — Anonymous

“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.”  — Anonymous

“Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.”  — Oprah Winfrey

“It’s never too late to become what you might have been.”  — George Elliot

“Clear your mind of can’t.”  — Samuel Johnson


“Train hard, race easy, & enjoy the run!”  — P. Mark Taylor