Category Archives: Threshold Training

Thursday Training Tip #3

Treshold Training – Run Faster to Run Further

threshold-training-run

Threshold training (often called tempo running) consists of running at your maximum aerobic output in a ‘steady state’. Because threshold training requires you to run at your maximum aerobic ‘steady state’ it is an excellent way to train for endurance running and races which require this type of running. It is also a great way to add variety to your workout and give you that ‘fast running’ feeling that is so easy to lose if you are constantly pushing out long distances. Here’s a link to my page about using threshold training to improve your distance running.

The term ‘threshold’ refers to the point where your body reaches its maximum aerobic output (energy derived from converting glycogen and oxygen). Beyond this point, any additional energy requirements must be met by your anaerobic metabolism (energy derived from converting glucose and glycogen without oxygen). As with most thresholds, there is a danger if you cross the line. If you work too hard you run the risk of too large a contribution of anaerobic metabolism to your energy supply, which leads to an accumulation of lactate and also rapid fatigue. It’s about control. And the best control is your heart rate monitor. You will need to do a physical test to determine your optimum heart rate, so make sure you’re fit and healthy before you embark on this. My page on threshold running has a couple of tests you can do to determine your threshold rate.

So, keen to give threshold training a go? Great! Your threshold sessions can vary, but typically it’s advised to do between 20-40 minutes of threshold running in a single session. If you’re experienced you might do this in a single ‘steady state threshold run’, but if you’re new to running or threshold running you might want to try repeats. These are best done to time, like say 4×6 minute threshold runs, with 3 minute recovery jog in between repeats. If you’re someone who needs distance targets, try mile repeats, or some distance that equates neatly into your run

Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind for your workouts:

  1. Threshold training is a tough workout and you need to complete a thorough warm-up and cool down. Start your workout with some Dynamic Stretching, followed by slow jogging to gradually raise your heart rate. Follow a cool down routine after your workout, and don’t forget your static stretching
  2. Doing repeats? Recovery breaks between repeats should either be walking or slow recovery jogging. These breaks are also a good time to refuel/rehydrate.
  3. Want to use threshold as part of half or full distance marathon training. Try a TLT workout to combine the effects of threshold training and your long-slow run.
  4. Threshold sessions are hard work, make sure the following day is a rest or recovery day so you can continue with quality workouts and avoid overtraining issues.
  5. Make sure you’re having fun doing it! You have to want to do these sessions otherwise you’ll just start skipping them. Focus on the improvement they bring to your fitness and speed!

Threshold training is a proven way to make you a faster and stronger runner. It will also make you more efficient so in endurance events you can go the distance on less energy. I use threshold training in my running schedule and during my buildup to distance races, and they are often some of my most rewarding runs. Sure, they may be hard work at the time, but that feeling of freedom that comes with running fast is hard to find anywhere else! If you’re looking for some more info, here’s the link to my page on threshold training once more.

Happy running everyone!

Bernie

Get Going, Get Running!

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Related Articles:

Article: Threshold Training : Run Faster to Run Further

Blog post: Threshold-Long-Threshold : Training for distance events

Blog post: Threshold Training

Trail Running : a good way to clear your head and make new friends…

What do you do if a horse is standing in the middle of the trail you’re running on? Stop to pat it and take photos of course! While at the same time keeping it from stealing your energy drink…

Today my girlfriend and I were up in Doncaster for the funeral of her grandfather who sadly passed away last week. Needless to say it has been an emotional week for my girlfriend and in some respects I’ve experienced some of the ‘overflow’. However, there is nothing like a run to clear your head and get some focus, so this morning I went out for a 12km trail run.

doncaster-trail-run

Last night we stayed with my girlfriend’s aunt and uncle at their house in Sprotbrough, right on the banks of the River Don. This gave me the means and excuse to head out off the tarmac and onto the trail along the river this morning. I didn’t have a map, but I’d looked on Google maps before I went out to get an idea of distance and route and headed out. Of course, the first thing I did after getting onto the trail was take a wrong turn at a fork which resulted in me crossing over the A1 on a footbridge and ending up in a field if beets. However, I could see the river half a mile away so followed the tractor marks through the beets to the river.

Not much of a designated trail, but a trail nonetheless. And no, I don't know if they're really beets, they just looked like it to me...

Not much of a designated trail, but a trail nonetheless. And no, I don’t know if they’re really beets, they just looked like it to me…

After a ‘delicate’ negotiation of a barbed wire fence I was on the riverside track and headed off. A few wrong turnings and a backtrack or two and I found myself popping out back at the top of the field of beets! I’d made myself a little 4km trail circuit!

doncaster-trail-run-aerial-image

If you wish to see the run for ‘real’ – clicking on the Image will take you to the Garmin Player

Now knowing the ‘right’ route I skipped back over the A1 footbridge, took the correct turning at the fork and found the stairs down to the river (much better than risking the barbed wire fence again) and headed back out on the trail. On the second circuit I was able to keep a tempo pace up because a) I knew the route and b) I wasn’t stopping every 5 minutes to take a photo of beets, cows, ducks or whatever. Until the horse of course (of course…)

I know these are cows, not a horse. Cows don't really do much do they...

I know these are cows, not a horse. Cows don’t really do much do they…

I had just entered a new field and had run around the corner to find a horse grazing in the middle of the track. He looked up as I approached, but didn’t seem concerned about me, so I kept approaching and slowed to a walk. Seeing that the horse was friendly, and pretty much ambivalent about my presence I went up to it and gave it a pat on the head and a scratch on the neck. This was fine until he smelled my energy drink. I had spilled some on my hand and he could obviously smell the sugar! Suddenly he was pushing and shoving with outstretched neck and lips puckering for my bottle. Greedy little bugger! Anyway, in this merry little dance we’d managed to turn around and I found myself on the other side of him, with an empty track in front of me. Seizing this opportunity I bid ‘adieu’ to Mr Ed and went on my way with an extra photo for the blog and horse saliva all over my arm!

Mr Ed, before he found out I had an energy drink with me...

Mr Ed, before he found out I had an energy drink with me…

The rest of the run was pretty uneventful. A bridge, some cows, some people walking their dogs, a lock, and 2km at threshold pace to finish off the run. I returned back to the house to find everyone had risen and breakfast was being prepared. I made excuses for a quick shower because, lets face it, no one deserves to sit next to a smelly sweaty runner at breakfast. Especially not one with horse spit down one arm and mulberry stains across his white (stupid choice for a trail run) tech shirt!

Disused rail bridge over the River Don

Disused rail bridge over the River Don

I’m starting to think the idea of a trail marathon is a good idea. Does anyone do trail races, and if so, what do you love about them?

A small p.s. – I found my 2XU calf guards really useful for my trail run. They stopped most things from scratching my shins, including mulberry bushes. But not stinging nettles. Definitely not stinging nettles…

Happy running everyone!

Bernie

Get Going, Get Running!

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Marathon training wk 10 : TLT training

TLT – sounds a lot like a sandwich filling, but it really stands for ‘Threshold-Long-Threshold’, a workout designed as a replacement for your long run that I first read about in a Running Competitor article.

Yesterday was my long run (social commitments meant I moved it from Saturday) and I decided to try out a TLT training session seeing as I had benefited from an extra rest day. In TLT, the basic premise is to do threshold/tempo running at the start and end of your long run, with a session of easy running at ‘long run’ pace in between.  If you’re not familiar with threshold running, you can read my earlier post and check out my training page on the subject.

This type of workout has two main benefits. The first is to burn more muscle glycogen early and activate your anaerobic pathway earlier. This will add more fatigue to the long run section and train your body to improve metabolism of body fat for energy, a crucial requirement for successfully going 42km. The second is to train you physically and, more importantly, mentally for the end stages of a race where you need to keep pushing on despite the onset of physical and mental exhaustion. 

In the RC article, Magdalena Lewy Boulet of the Bay Area Track Club (coach of Clara Peterson, 16th at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials) says that “threshold ‘cruise intervals’ need to be run at proper intensity. They are meant to be comfortably hard, or about 83 percent of your VO2 max.” This is all a bit technical for us ‘normal runners’ without access to VO2 max equipment, but you can approximate threshold pace to your 5km race pace, or about 85-90% of your max heart rate.  If you use a heart rate monitor and are reasonably fit and want to determine your max heart rate, I have used this very instructive Runners World maximum heart rate test to determine my maximum heart rate, and then used the RunnersWeb.com heart rate zone calculator to determine my personal training zones.

A typical VO2 max test

A typical VO2 max test

The TLT workout in the RC article was a series of 3x2mile threshold repeats done before an 8 mile ‘long run’, followed by another 2 miles of threshold pace. However, this is a workout for someone who came 16th at the Olympic Marathon trials – i.e. not really for mere mortals like us! Therefore, I edited it to reduce the amount of threshold running, and also the total distance, to something I thought would work for me. My workout went like this (MP means Marathon Pace):

  • 10 min Dynamic Stretching
  • 2km slow jog (MP+45 warm up)
  • 3km threshold run at 5k pace (roughly MP-40)
  • 17km long run with negative splits (first half MP+30, second half MP+15)
  • 2km run to threshold heart rate (equated to MP-10)
  • 2km slow jog (cool down)
  • 1.5km recovery walk

Unsurprisingly, it was hard! Significantly harder than the long run of the week before which was a straightforward 23km long run with negative splits (first half at MP+30, second half at MP+15). However, I could feel the supposed benefits of a TLT workout happening during the run. After the first threshold section I struggled to slow down to MP+30, showing that my body was still massively creating energy after the initial threshold session, and once I was in the groove of the long run, my body sailed along easily and comfortably. I found that in the second half of the long run the fatigue was greater than usual, and my heart rate gradually crept up towards my threshold level while keeping the pace constant. As it turned out, I had to reduce speed for the 2km before the last threshold element to MP+30 to get my heart rate down into aerobic levels. In that last threshold 2km I really had to push to keep going, both physically and mentally, all good training for the closing stages of a race.

Garmin-130819-TLT long runOverall, I consider the session a success, and very ‘instructive’ for reminding me what the closing stages of a marathon are like. However, one ‘negative’ point that I learned with this workout is that I designed it at least 2km too long. The need to slow down for the 2km before the last threshold session told me that I had fatigued too much in the long run component, i.e. I wasn’t fit enough to do the distance with the extra impact of the threshold running. In hindsight, that should have been obvious, but I had countered the extra kilometres with a rest day so thought it would be OK. “Wrong!” – However I still finished the session with all key components completed so overall it was a success.

Would I do this workout again? Yes, I will. It was hard, but rewarding, and I do think the additional physical and mental toughness needed at the end of the workout (when all you would really like to do is walk!) is very good training for race day.  I would however do the first threshold session at MP-15 as suggested in the RC article, instead of flat out 5km pace I did.

Would I add it to my normal routine? No, probably not. I think it is a good workout session for those peaking for a marathon, but for generally weekly running it is probably too much to ask to punish yourself like that week-in, week-out if you aren’t preparing for a race. It would just take the fun out of running! It’s also not a particularly useful workout for lower distances either. I think for a half-marathon it could still be applicable, but for 5km and 10km it is the wrong type of training and it would be better to stick to speed work if you are wanting to improve your performance over those distances.

Has anyone else tried TLT training? What was your experience?

Happy running everyone!

Bernie

Get Going, Get Running!

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Threshold Training : Run faster to run further

Image of a man running fast on a pathway

Back in 2007 I moved from Australia to England, with about 5 months of backpacking through central and Eastern Europe in between. I went for one, maybe two, jogs in that holiday. Total. Running just wasn’t on the agenda for the trip. And then I landed in England, needing to find a job, a place to live and some new friends. Another couple of months went by before I got out the trainers and went running.

7 months off running is a long, long time and I struggled to do the distances I was used too, and it took a long time to build back up to a level of fitness where I could run 5km without walking.  Luckily for me however this was just before my birthday and my housemates, watching me get back into running, bought me a book which they thought would help me, called Everyone’s Guide to Distance Running by Norrie Williamson.

Up to this point I’d done very little reading on running. I mean, how hard is it? Just put one foot in front of the other and repeat, right? “Wrong!” is what this book taught me. Up until this time I was just trotting out similar miles month in month out, maybe doing a race once a year like the City-to-Surf race in my hometown Perth, content knowing that a long run for me was 10km and that I would never be able to complete a half-marathon or even contemplate the training for a marathon.

Reading this book taught me many valuable lessons, and the one I am discussing today was the biggest lesson that I learned – that to improve my running I had to vary my pace. Up until this point I had run all my runs at basically the same pace, expecting some form of improvement just down to miles run. Sure, I improved to a point as my base fitness improved, but after a while my performance would always plateau. Norrie Williamson explains in his book that:

  1. I wasn’t alone – most people never vary their pace – and;
  2. The plateau in my performance was caused by not increasing my aerobic capacity or threshold level.

The answer to both these was to include fast runs in my training.

Surely running faster means shorter distance, right? Well, yes, that’s right in the sense that the faster you run the less distance you can cover before you tire and have to slow down or stop. However, what I didn’t know was that by running faster over shorter distances, you will improve your speed over longer distances, which will allow you to go even greater distances at slower paces.

Why? Because short, fast, runs push you to the top of your cardio zone and into your threshold zone. Your threshold zone is where you have reached your maximum oxygen uptake and are utilising your anaerobic energy pathway to sustain your output. By pushing into this zone it is possible to raise your threshold level, thereby extending your aerobic range. Put simply, with a higher threshold level you will be able to run faster, for longer.

I now make sure to always do short, fast, runs in my training. They certainly help with the longer distances and I’ve come to love them. Even to relish them. Sure, your muscles hurt more, your breathing rate is through the roof and your heart is pounding away, but when you run fast you are running free. You can’t think about work, life, what’s for dinner or what’s on TV. There is just you and your run. It’s a time to just be with your body and your mind as you push yourself to the maximum.

I also think anyone can do it and everyone can get benefit from it. Sure, as a beginner you might only get 5 or 10 minutes of threshold running before you pack it in and have to slow down, but those minutes will still be just you and your run, and the more you do it, the more minutes you will be able to do. If you are an established runner you will be able to run at threshold for longer, ideally around 25 minutes, and get greater benefits in your longer distance running to boot.

“How do I know what my threshold is?” you might ask. The scientific answer is that threshold level running is running at a pace where your blood lactate level increases due to the muscles inability to re-metabolise lactic acid at the same rate of production. Now, no one runs with a blood analyser on their back, so a more useful explanation is that threshold level is between 80% and 90% of your maximum working heart rate.

The easiest way to measure your performance during a threshold run is with a heart rate monitor. I won’t go through the formula here, but if you use a heart rate monitor then the BrianMac heart rate calculator will give you a reasonable heart rate to aim for.  This will be generic as it based on the ‘average’ person and is therefore not necessarily correct for your body. Your personal health and fitness will have an impact in your heart rate and on your training zones. If you are new to running or have health issues, then speak to your doctor or sports professional before adding threshold training into your routine.

If you are fit and an established runner and want to refine your heart rate training zones, and are willing to do a maximal effort run cycle, then you should consider completing a maximal heart rate test. I used this very instructive Runners World maximum heart rate test to determine my maximum heart rate, and then used the RunnersWeb.com heart rate zone calculator to determine my personal training zones.

If you run without gadgets (nothing wrong with that!) then a rule of thumb is that your threshold rate is the fastest pace you can run for a sustained period of time, as in multiple minutes. A good guide is 10km race pace, however if you don’t yet have a ‘race pace’ at this distance, an easier guide is if the pace you are running at means you can only keep it up for a few minutes then you are running too fast, or, if you feel like you could keep going forever you are running too slow.

You can also try the talk test. Threshold running requires a high breathing rate and consequently you shouldn’t be able to speak more than 2-3 words at a time. If you can get a sentence out then you are running too slow, if all you can do is gasp “this hurts!” then you are running too fast.

Here is a video from Vo2maxProductions which I think is useful for those wanting some more information.

So next time you go out for a short run, try some threshold running as part of your run (after a proper warm up of course) and see how you feel. After your period of threshold running make sure to slow down and recuperate, and don’t forget your cool-down routine. Hopefully you will enjoy the challenge of pushing yourself, the freedom a threshold run gives your mind, as well as the follow on benefits to your longer runs. And even if you don’t enjoy it, you will have the knowledge that you ran fast and pushed yourself hard. That alone is enough to be proud of!

Bernie.

Get Going, Get Running!

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