If you have goals around improving your race times, you may be wondering what types of running workouts you should be adding to your training plan to achieve those goals. Threshold workouts are a valuable tool, when done correctly! You can’t be running on Zone 3 all the time!
While I’ve highlighted a variety of workout types in my articles and social posts, one that I haven’t delved into too much is the threshold run.
If you’re training, particularly for a half or full marathon, and would like to improve your times, threshold runs are critical to help you achieve your goals. You’ll find that when done correctly, you’ll see a positive change in endurance and speed.
Keep reading to learn what a threshold run is, its benefits, how you determine your threshold pace, and some workouts to try.
What is a Threshold Run?
A threshold run is where you run at a pace that is at or just below your lactate threshold.
You’re probably like, “Ok, great! …Wait, how would I ever know my lactate threshold?” We’ll get to that because it’s super important, but for a short and sweet:
A threshold run pace is usually between your 10K and half marathon race pace. Or the pace you could sustain for 1 hour of racing.
Middle and back of the pack runners may find it’s pretty close to their 10K pace. That’s ok! It’s about a specific effort here, not your pace.
These workouts are often cross referenced with tempo runs, but many coaches tend to see the two a little bit differently. More accurately…I’d say there are just two different ways of going about achieving this lactate threshold.
Threshold Runs vs. Tempo Runs
I’m not going to go super deep into this because I have a detailed article on tempo runs you can check out.
But here’s a quick overview.
Both tempo and threshold runs (or T-pace runs) offer similar benefits like improved VO2 max and endurance to name a few.
Tempo runs are runs performed at a sustained running pace that’s faster than your easy pace but slower than a sprint. We often describe it as the pace you could hold for a 1 hour race.
Hmm that sounds similar to a threshold run pace.
Let’s try it this way….
Tempo runs can start at 10 minutes and build up to the athlete completing 4 miles at tempo pace. This requires quite a bit of recovery.
Threshold workouts or cruise intervals are usually much shorter intervals from 2 minutes to 800m repeats, with a short working recovery. This keeps your lactate from dropping, but is seen as less intense on the body than a long tempo.
6 Benefits of Threshold Runs
These runs allow us to slowly, over time build our pace and lactate threshold to become faster, fitter distance runners.
While V02 Max is hard to change, improving your lactate clearing does allow you to run farther before feeling so fatigued.
#1 Run Faster for Longer
By adding in T-pace runs, you’ll find that you’re able to run faster for longer over time. This is because your lactate threshold, the point where fatigue starts to creep in, improves.
#2 Improved VO2 Max
T-pace runs can improve your VO2 max, which is your body’s ability to consume oxygen. The better your body can consume oxygen for a sustained period of time, the better your performance,
#3 Improved Endurance
Threshold runs can also help with your endurance, which is your body’s ability to both exert itself, remain active for a long period of time, and recover.
#4 Faster Race Times
If you’re hoping to improve your race times, than this benefit alone makes adding T-pace runs to your training schedule worth it. Long distance races require you to be able to run for a long time and if you have a certain goal pace or finish time, helping your body find a pace it can sustain for miles without debilitating fatigue will make those goals reachable.
#5 Improved Mental Toughness and Confidence
Additionally, both the intervals or tempo runs prepare you mentally and physically for the demands of race day. It gives you the opportunity to lean in to the discomfort and for your muscles to understand what it’s going to feel like.
#6 Learning How to Correctly Pace Yourself
Finally, it really forces you to learn how to not overrun your workouts. You have to learn how to control your effort and your pace to get through the full workout feeling strong.
Sounds good, right?
But what about this whole lactate thing? Let’s dig in.
What is Lactate?
To put it simply, lactate or lactic acid is what the body produces from cell metabolism and exercise.
It’s a myth that lactic acid build-up in our muscles is what causes muscle soreness. That was debunked in the 80s, but people still spew that today. I’m sure you’ve heard it!
When running or exercising, our bodies remove lactate and other byproducts from our muscles as it is being produced. There comes a point, and it’s different for every runner, where our bodies can no longer keep up with the removal and accumulation starts to occur. You might notice you’re getting tired or even a burning sensation in your legs.
That point is your lactate threshold.
Knowing that threshold can be really helpful, especially when running long, like in a half or full marathon. Staying at or under your lactate threshold will help you avoid the fatigue that can put your time goal or PR out the window.
AND doing these workouts can help you to improve that point!
How Do I Determine my Threshold Pace?
You’re probably thinking that knowing your lactate threshold is a game changer. And, you’re not wrong. But, that’s not really something you can determine on your own. You’d need to head to a lab for that.
Before you go spend that money, let’s talk.
However, you can most likely figure out what pace you can run that corresponds to your lactate threshold. This is known as your threshold pace.
Option 1: Lab Testing
While the best way to determine your threshold pace is also in a lab where they have to do some semi-invasive testing, it’s going to cost you quite a bit of money. I’m a fan of doing these things for writing articles and learning, but also a fan of not spending money I don’t need to…
So, there are other ways you can do this on your own. None of these options may be 100% scientifically accurate, but they’ll produce a number that should be close enough.
Option 2: Heart Rate
One way to figure out your threshold pace is to use your running watch.
While running watches measuring HR from our wrists aren’t always the most accurate, they are an easily available option (or better yet a HR monitor chest strap).
Your running threshold tends to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-90% of your maximum heart rate. Basically running in Zone 3-4 depending on how you have your watch setup.
I would say for tempo runs most folks tend to be in Zone 3 which might be closer to 75-80% and when doing the intervals then pushing to that 85%.
I find that if athletes are pushing to 90% and above it starts turning in to a sprint, the workout becomes much, much harder to recover from.
Option 3: Race Results
Another way to figure out your threshold pace is to look at your race results. To do this, you want to consider races where you ran for at least an hour. For some of you, that’s longer than a 10k, so maybe look at results for 15k, 10-milers, or half marathons.
Your threshold pace is generally a little faster than the pace you ran those race distances. So if your race pace at a 15k was a 9 minute mile, your threshold run pace will be just a tad faster, like 8:40-8:45/mile.
Another example would be if your half marathon pace is 10 minutes per mile, your threshold pace would be in the neighborhood of 9:45/mile.
Option 4: RPE
One final way to determine threshold pace is to go by feel, also know as your rate of perceived exertion. Beyond figuring out your T-pace, running by feel instead of focusing on the data your watch is producing is also a great way to learn to listen to your body and its needs.
This is one way that you’ll be better prepared on race day by having tapped in to how your body feels and knowing when something is off or adjusting for weather.
So to determine your T-pace by feel, you’re going to pay attention to how hard you’re running. Can you have a conversation? That’s too easy. Are you running so fast that you’re out of breath and probably can’t go much further than a 5k, well that’s too fast.
You want a pace you could sustain for several miles.
How Often Should I Run at Threshold Pace?
There are a number of factors that determine how often you should run at your threshold pace. The most obvious factors are knowing where your fitness is currently and your goals.
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced runner, you can benefit from threshold runs. But it doesn’t mean you’ll be doing them if your plan has other speed workouts already designed to hit your goals!
MORE SPEEDWORK IS NOT BETTER.
Many running coaches recommend at least one speed workout a week. This would include threshold runs. Depending on your fitness, you may be able to tolerate and benefit from an additional workout involving threshold pace each week. So it really depends.
The important thing to note is that these workouts should be different. You may do intervals in one workout and incorporate threshold pace miles into a long run, just as an example.
A good running coach will know what to have you do. If you’re struggling with how to program your workouts, checkout how the Run To the Finish Coaches can help.
Tips for Running at Threshold Pace
Threshold training runs can be challenging. You may want some ideas to help you get through them or take your mind off how hard you may be working.
Sometimes, just the literal “change of pace” of doing a threshold run will be enough of a distraction from your regular easy runs. By plugging your workout into your watch so it tells you what to do and when, you can just head out and tackle the workout.
But maybe you need some help some days. Consider:
- Try finding a flatter place for this workout to keep effort consistent.
- Listening to upbeat music that gets you pumped up. It absolutely works, gotta get the brain on board.
- Use these runs to practice race day fueling, especially if doing longer intervals or a tempo.
- Train with a friend who runs a similar pace for speedwork.
- Hop on the treadmill and put on your favorite show or movie to pass the time and not keep checking your watch.
- Avoid running in bad weather, it’s going to make it much harder to hit the appropriate effort if it’s super hot, crazy windy or slushy.
Looking for more speed workout tips?
- Fartlek Workouts
- Hills Sprints – Incredible tool for speed
- Ladder Drills for Runners
- Best Speed Exercises For Runners
Other ways to connect with Amanda
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