Also known as threshold runs, lactate threshold runs, and a few other terms as well, the temp run has been an important part of the distance runners’ training program for a long time now. Traditionally, tempo runs have been done under the lactate threshold, but the modern day runner is using progressive tempo runs to train the body to be able to handle what happens in race conditions, when you tip over that point at which the body is able to clear the lactic acid out of the blood quickly.
Lactate threshold pace is the pace where you are just in control of everything, and to go any faster would mean you would have to slow down through exhaustion pretty soon. You’re puffing hard, but not out of control, the amount of lactic acid in your blood is just about to tip over to that point where your body can’t clear lactic acid from the body quickly enough, so you have to slow down so that oxygen can be used to convert lactic acid back to pyruvic acid at the cellular level which will then be converted to water and carbon dioxide and expelled from the body as breath, sweat and urine.
Your muscles are feeling it, but can keep going powerfully, but if you go any faster, you’ve had it. This is how you feel when you’re running at threshold pace.
You can train at or around threshold pace using interval training – running at threshold or just above for up to 6 mins, then dropping your pace dramatically for a few minutes of recovery. You can also utilise the tempo run, a longer run where you stay just under the threshold pace.
The long standing advice on temp runs is to be sure not to cross the lactate threshold, or else you won’t be training the right energy system. Theoretically, this is true-once you cross the lactate threshold, you aren’t providing the right stress to increase your lactate threshold as much as you would if you stayed under the threshold.
However, most of us are not training to increase our lactate threshold. Most of us are training to run faster. To perform at our best in a certain goal race. By performing some of your training at race pace when you are already buggered (that’s the layman’s term for fatigued), you’re providing the right stress to your body to improve your race performance. You’re also working on some good mental toughening up as well!
If you’re racing a 5k for example, if you haven’t gone out too hard, you’ll feel ok up to about the 3km mark. Around about that point, your body will have to begin to deal with high levels of lactic acid accumulation, and if you haven’t trained your body to do this, it’s not going to do it very efficiently.
To train under similar conditions to those you’ll experience in a race, progressive tempo runs are very important. You need to train your body to deal with lactic acid after a relatively long sustained hard effort. Run most of your run, be it anything from 5k -15km (or more, depending on your experience) under your lactate threshold. It should feel hard, but not too hard. You should know you’re working, but feel like you could keep going. In the final 10-20% of your run, lift your effort and cross over the lactate threshold, bringing it home just like you would in a race. This will give your body practice at dealing with higher levels of lactic acid at a time when you are already fatigued. It’s simple. Train faster run faster.
Start out gradually with progressive tempo runs. Include maybe 1km at the end of a tempo run when you lift your effort a bit. Don’t do more than once a week. Play around with it a bit, and see your PB drop!
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