by Kevin Jermyn, TrackCoach.com
One of the primary means to improve your running performance is to improve your lactate threshold. Your lactate threshold refers to your ability to tolerate a constant level of lactic acid in your muscles without hindering your running performance. To improve your running performance requires that you be able to work increasingly close to your maximum oxygen consumption without suffering from high accumulations of lactic acid in the blood. Since our body does not perform optimally when overcome by the crippling forces of lactic acid, the ability to halt blood-lactate accumulation at swifter paces is the primary determinant of success at the distance races, but is also very important in the middle distances. One of the primary means to improve our lactate threshold is to complete threshold training.
There are various forms of threshold training, but they all share the similar goal of maintaining a constant blood-lactate level, giving our body the experience of dealing with blood-lactate accumulation and learning to clear this lactic acid from our muscles at quicker rates. The two main forms of threshold training are tempo runs and threshold intervals. Tempo running refers to a steady run of a prolonged duration. One of most common types of tempo runs is a steady 15 to 25 minute run on relatively flat terrain and with good footing to maintain a consistent level of effort. Hills, uneven footing, and adverse weather conditions will all interfere with the goal of threshold training, maintaining a constant blood-lactate level, so try to avoid these conditions as much as possible. One of the biggest challenges for runners attempting threshold training is maintaining the proper pace, resisting the temptation to make each tempo run a time trial where you try to improve upon your time from the week before. Instead, focus on monitoring how much easier you can perform the threshold workout each week, and when you are comfortable at a certain intensity for a few weeks, then you can consider increasing the intensity slightly.
Threshold intervals (a.k.a. cruise intervals) are repeated runs usually between 3 and 15 minutes at threshold pace, broken up with short period of recovery (usually between 15 and 60 seconds). For example a popular threshold interval workout is 5 repeated miles at threshold pace, with less then 60 seconds recovery. Threshold intervals achieve the same goals of temp runs, but tempo runs are more difficult since they require a greater level of concentration then the intervals.
The proper pace or intensity for threshold running is about 86 to 88 percent of VO2 max, or 90 percent of vVO2 max or maximum heart rate. Since it is often difficult to define the exact paces that correspond to these scientific levels, it is a good rule of thumb to consider your threshold pace the pace you could hold for 50 to 60 minutes in a race type situation (i.e. 10 mile race for elite runners). Your weekly mileage limits the total amount of threshold training per week. You should not complete more then 10 percent of your weekly mileage as threshold training, with a maximum of 8 miles and a minimum of three miles. Also, you may find it beneficial to include some strides (15 to 40 seconds at current mile pace with full recovery) at the end of your threshold workout to help loosen up the muscles in your legs.
In summary, threshold training is very effective at improving our lactate threshold, a key determinant of running performance, especially in distance running. Overall, threshold training is a very productive form of training for the time spent running. All it takes is about 4 miles of work per week at your current race pace for a 50 to 60 minute race, either in the form of a straight run (tempo run) or in the form of intervals with short recovery (threshold intervals or cruise intervals). Enjoy!
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