Monthly Archives: July 2012

What is Lactate threshold training?

One of the problems with intervals and repetitions is their intensity. These sessions can leave you so fatigued that all that you can muster over the next few days is some easy running and only one session like this is possible a week, which can be counterproductive.

We feel rough and sore because of the concentration of lactate produced by intensive exercise in our blood.  We have a lactate threshold which the points at which lactate levels go up in relation to the intensity of the exercise and more lactate is building than is being cleared. This will vary from person to person, runner to runner. The point just before this happens is the lactate threshold and many believe this is the most efficient pace to train as it is the level at which the heart can be exercised for a long period without fatigue ending the workout. .

All runners should include some type of threshold work in their training. There’s abundant proof that doing a little running each week in that moderately high-intensity threshold zone yields better race results than training only at lower intensities or at much higher intensities only.

How fast do you need to run at to be at your lactate threshold? One method would be to find out your Maximum Heart Rate and then look to run at 85% of that maximum for tempo runs and 85 -90% for intervals. Or a more practical approach is to find your lactate threshold by assessing how hard exercise feels at any given moment. One method is to rank exertions on a scale which goes for from 6 to 20 where 6 means “extremely easy” and 20 equates to “extremely” hard. Exertion around 13 is usually found to correspond to the lactate threshold and could be described as “comfortably hard” or “easy speed” or “fairly fast”.

If you are able to push yourself to run hard, but you are in control of your breathing which is deep but not out of control and you are capable of running at that pace for another 3 or 4 minutes then you are probably at your threshold intensity.

An analogy would be to view the workout as if it were weight training for your heart. We all know that going into the weight room lifting the heaviest weight you can muster and leaving is not an effective way to train. Instead you lift many weights at below your maximum to achieve the adaption that will increase your strength and in the case of the heart pump more blood and carry more oxygen.

In the twilight of his career, International Irish miler Marcus O’Sullivan was a late convert to threshold running as he looked to ways to improve his 1500 time.

Prior to the conversion he would do 10 x 1000m on the track with 4 mins jog recovery usually averaging an impressive 2m 45secs. The downside would be that he would have to spend the next few days running easy to recover from this tough workout. And this was beginning to become more of an issue as he began to get older, finding it increasing more difficult to recover from these sessions. Speaking with a triathlon coach and more out of desperation, he agreed to move to lactate threshold training. With a maximum heart rate of 193 that meant he need to run the reps at a pace where his heart did not rise above 155. This meant his 1000m reps, now with just 40 secs rest, slowed to 3.10s. Despite the reps feel too slow he stuck with it for 6 weeks and he was rewarded with his fastest 1500m of his career of 3.35 (down from 3.37) at the age of 35. An improvement he attributes to changing his track work to threshold.

Another way to work out the speed at which you should run your workouts is to use the following touchstone session. Take your best 5K time and add a minute and divide by 5 to get 1000m splits and then add 35 – 40secs. A 19 min 5K runner add a minute to this time (20 mins) and therefore look to run 5 x 1000m in 4mins 35 sec. And with threshold you are looking to have less than 1 min recovery, preferably 40 seconds.

What are Intervals and Repetitions (Reps/repeats) and what’s the difference between the two?

Although associated with middle distance and long distance track running training both repetitions and intervals are great for increasing speed and endurance and I see no reason why all runners can’t adapt these workouts to get benefit.

Runners use these terms repetitions and intervals interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. In both cases you run over a specified distance and the runs are broken up by a recovery jogs or standing rest. And, unless the session is designed to be at lactate threshold (endurance based) session then the jog will be a very slow jog (just above a walk).

The distinction between intervals and repetitions relates to the jogs or standing rest between each run and to some extent the length of the run.In an Interval session the time spent jogging / standing rest is kept constant ranging from 2 to 3 minutes — usually too short to allow complete recovery. Therefore a session could be expressed as follows:

5 x 1000m with 2 minutes recovery (standing/walk or jog)

With a session like this you would have your recovery near the start of the next run so that runners can do their own recovery in preparation for the next run. Some might need to stay standing while others are able to jog depending on their fitness levels. With such a session you would look to maintain a pace eg 10k race pace but reduce the recovery. A 36min 10K runner would run the mile runs in around 5.40 to 5.50 minutes. Once your average started to get quicker, then you would look to reduce the recovery down and maintain the pace until you got the recovery down to 60secs as a minimum.

During my completive days when I was able to complete 10K cross country races in around 30 minutes or just under I recall with great clarity a weekly session of  5 x 1 mile with  3 mins recovery where I was averaging well under 5 minutes for each effort.

The goal for interval training is to “accumulate” time spent running at a very high level and increase our body’s ability to adapt and eventually run at a sustained, higher anaerobic pace for longer periods.  

For interval workouts, a general guideline for the amount of recovery time between runs should be equal to or less than the time spent running. For example, if we’re running  interval 800s at 4 minute pace, then the recovery time would be 3 minutres.

When designing interval workouts, I tend to choose distances ranging from 800 meters to 2000m (runs ranging three to six minutes). 

The challenge and the benefit of running intervals always comes back to controlling the recovery time, not running faster.

Below is a guide to some interval workouts

50 min 10K runner 5 x 1000m 2 mins standing rest Aim for average of 4mins 42 Running at 47 min 10K pace
45 min 10K runner 5 x 1000m 2 mins standing rest Aim for average of 4min 16sec Running at 42.39 min 10K pace
38 min 10K runner 5 x 1000m 2 mins standing rest Aim for average of 3min 37 Running at 36.09 10K pace

You sometimes also here the term speed/endurance. This is where the runs are less than 3 minutes so you might be doing 800m or 600m or 400m repetitions but without ample recovery but at race or faster than race pace. Track runners like Sebastion Coe used this type of training. For instance he would regularly run 6 x 800m on a road loop with 60 to 90 seconds standing rest. He would run these at his 1500m pace ie in under 2 minutes!

With Repetitions (or Repeats or speedwork)  there is a  greater emphasis is placed on hitting times faster than your race pace for each fast run with recovery  adjusted so that those times can be hit, normally expressed in terms distance covered.

Because we are running fast the distance run is generally shorter e.g., 200s, 400s, 600s so that we can repeat themmultiple times. The objective is to “repeat” the distance with the same quality at the end as at the beginning of the workout. We are literally training our body to be able to run at a faster than race pace improve our anaerobic capacity, develop new muscles, build speed, and make us familiar with more rapid, efficient, and fluid leg turnover and be able to relax and feel comfortable at race pace.

Designed for the track runner a 4 minute miler would run 4 x 400m in 56 seconds with 400m jog. He would be running his maximium speed but he would set ample recovery for setting off again. Recovery guidelines for repeats/reps are generally two to four times the amount of time spent running the repeat

Repetitions are sometimes broken down into sets making the work more manageable, making it a hybrid between Repetitions and Intervals. An example would be 3 (3 x300m with 100m jog)500m jog between sets. Notice that the job between sets is long allowing the runner to recover (like repetitions) but the recovery between the 300s is short and the runner will be setting off having not fully recovered.

Similar to repetitions is a  “ladder session” a variation on the same theme and has ample recover between many sets of reps but at different distances. A typical session would be 4 x 400m with 200m jog, (400m jog) then 4 x 300m with 100m jog (400m jog) then 4 x 200m with 200m jog.

UK a lazy lot

A recent article in the Lancet by Prof Lee of Harvard confirms the findings of research that assessed the health benefits of physical activity in a Taiwanese population and if less exercise than the recommended 150 min a week can still have life expectancy benefits.

Compared with individuals in the inactive group, those in the low-volume activity group, who exercised for an average of 92 min per week  or 15 min a day had a 14% reduced risk of all-cause mortality and had a 3 year longer life expectancy.

Every additional 15 min of daily exercise beyond the minimum amount of 15 min a day further reduced all-cause mortality by 4% and all-cancer mortality by 1%. These benefits were applicable to all age groups and both sexes, and to those with cardiovascular disease risks. Individuals who were inactive had a 17%  increased risk of mortality compared with individuals in the low-volume group.

Therefore 15 min a day or 90 min a week of moderate-intensity exercise might be of benefit, even for individuals at risk of cardiovascular disease.

In Britain we come low down the list of countries whose population is active. Inactivity kills the same amount of people as smoking kills, doing nothing is not an option.

By exercising you encourage bone health, increase your immunity to infection and disease and increase circulation.


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