Burning Question: Why is Threshold Pace Important?

Continuing on from my last post, the flip side of the equation in 80/20 training is running approximately 20 pct of your weekly mileage at a hard pace. And by hard, I don’t mean your goal pace for the full (MP) or the half-marathon (HMP). Granted that those paces may feel hard towards the end of your race, the reality is they’re not quite hard enough if used in training. In this context, your MP or HMP paces are considered medium-intensity efforts.

So how hard is hard? I like to say that it should be hard enough that it feels like the second half of your race. Or it is the pace that you can sustain for approximately one hour. Or it is between your HMP and 10K race pace. Or it is a pace where you can say a few words but would need to take a few breaths to recover.

The reasons why running at slightly faster than threshold (LT) pace are varied:

  1. To improve your lactate threshold — lactate threshold is the exercise intensity at which the blood concentration of lactate and/or lactic acid begins to exponentially increase. The more effectively your body can reuse and reduce lactate while you’re running, the longer and farther you can go before tiring. The latest word is that training at slightly faster than LT is most effective for improving one’s threshold.
  2. Addresses specific endurance – Both the full and half-marathons require a certain balance of strength, power, speed, and endurance (lots of it). Training at LT pace has been shown to best prepare the body for the grind of the marathon if it is used in combination with aerobic pace training (the other 80% of the equation).
  3. It’s a (mental) grind — running at LT pace is not an easy task. It is challenging even for the most seasoned runner. It offers terrific mental challenges and teaches runners how to run with a lot of discomfort. It also trains the mind on what it feels like to run at a fairly fast pace. All of which can be used as effective coping strategies during a race.

When people talk about LT, you might also hear the terms Maximal Lactate Steady State (MaxLaSS), anaerobic threshold, or Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA). They all pretty much mean the same thing.

Whichever term is used, the main takeaway here is remember to run your hard training paces at LT pace or faster to improve your Lactate Threshold. Restrict your total hard miles to about 20 pct of your weekly distance so you don’t get hurt or become too tired to run your other workouts.

Doing so should help improve fitness and lower your race times. Happy (hard) running!

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