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.