Along with the weekly long run, threshold running can be one the most important elements of any well structured training plan. Consistently training near our lactate threshold will over time make us run faster for longer.
But getting the effort and feel right is key. Run these sessions too hard and you will soon feel your breathing accelerate and pace drop off half way through and see the last couple of reps turn in to a battle you will surely loose. Run too easy and a real danger we end up with a wasted session and junk miles banked in the legs. Of course going into a lab to have lactate and max heart rate test done will give you a high degree of confidence about the pace and zones you need to be running these sessions. But if this is not an option here are our tips for nailing your threshold sessions.
- Talk Test
During our warm up or easy run you should be able to hold a full conversation with your training partner, completing full sentences between light breathing. As we move into our threshold blocks, we can now only talk in 3-4 word answers between deeper but controlled breaths. If you are really struggling to get words out, then we are moving into the hurt locker and within minutes you pace will drop drastically – back off the pace and get things back under control. Threshold running is often described as controlled discomfort – you know you are working hard, but always just holding back from that next gear or zone.
- Don’t Chase the Pace
You will often hear many runners talk about their ‘threshold pace’ like it is a fixed pace that all threshold blocks should be run at. There is a degree of truth in this, in that you will see most of your threshold efforts within 5-10 seconds per mile pace of previous sessions and over time indeed, become faster. But try to avoid looking at your watch during the efforts for feedback on your pace. Depending on the terrain, weather, how you are feeling and tiredness from previous sessions can all impact on the pace you may run on any given day. Stick to how it feels, not a prescribed pace. This can make a good threshold session become stressful by trying to force the pace up.
- Listen to your body
The more experienced you become with running at threshold, the more intuitive you will become at feeling the right effort and the feedback your body is giving you. Listen to your breathing. Is it still under control? Is your running form and cadence holding together or are you starting to tire? Can you feel the lactate start to build and muscles start to tighten and tire more quickly? These are all signs you need to dial back half a gear and get things back in the right zone. More and more runners like to run listening to music which certainly has its benefits on that long run – but threshold running needs to use all your senses to listen to the feedback your body is trying to give you – so use them and save the motivational play list for another day
- Heart Rate vs. perceived effort
If you know your maximum heart rate from a lab test, then running to HR zones during a threshold run can be highly effective in maintaining the effort in the right zone. Our threshold zone will be around 80-89% of our maximum heart rate. If you have based your max HR using a formula (such as 220 minus age) be warned these are usually very inaccurate, and even the best heart rate monitors will have a slight degree of inaccuracy. So use feedback on HR from your watch as a guide but continue to reflect how the effort feels. We want to be working at an 8/10 rate of perceived effort. If your watch is telling you everything is OK, but you are starting to blow hard, then listen to the real feedback every time- back off!