Whatever your individual goal when running, whether it is to prove a point or just to keep fit, there will come a time when running faster and further than before will enter your thoughts. Additionally, there will also come a time when no matter how hard you train, you’ll be unable to go any further or faster than before and you’ll have reached what is known as the “running plateau”.
When attempting to run further, many runners will constantly try to increase the distance they train at, eventually causing themselves injury. Moreover, when trying to increase speed, some runners will try to run faster over the same distance each time they train until their body cannot take it anymore, meaning that they are overtraining. As a result the body will require an extended rest period before starting training all over again. If this cycle is allowed to be repeated continuously, it will slow down a person’s overall running development or even stop any development altogether.
Before we begin to look at ways to train that will help you avoid the aforementioned issues and help you gradually improve your running, we must first understand what is meant by the term “lactate threshold”. Lactate threshold refers to the intensity at which an athlete can train while his or her body is still capable of processing the lactic acid produced in order for it to be returned to the body and used as fuel for exercise.
Yes, that’s right. Lactic acid is actually a key source of energy for the body. It isn’t the only chemical responsible for making us feel fatigued as many would have you believe. Additionally, lactate threshold has been proven to be a much better indicator of training effectiveness than VO2Max due to the fact that regular runners will not see much difference in their VO2Max levels despite their relatively high fitness levels.
With regard to running faster and further, we will only be capable of doing this by gradually increasing our lactate threshold. The way in which we can do this is to train close to our threshold, and this form of training is commonly referred to as “tempo” training.
Tempo training refers to a training intensity that is higher than regular aerobic training and takes place over “shorter” distances. Research has shown that training at this level of intensity can increase a person’s lactate threshold more effectively than continuously training at aerobic intensity.
A study by Eystein Enoksen split runners into two groups: one group trained at high intensity over short distances (50 kilometers / week), while the other trained at low intensity over longer distances (70 kilometers / week). The results of the study showed that the first group had a significantly sharper increase in their lactate threshold.
The next question that you may be asking yourselves right now is: “How can I find out what my tempo pace is?” While it is true that every individual will have their own tempo pace, there are many simple ways in which we can identify our own personal tempo pace. For example:
With regard to training programs, these will differ significantly depending on each individual runner’s needs, and there are a huge number of such programs available out there. However, it is extremely important that you reduce your usual training distance when doing your tempo run and that these runs make up no more than two of your weekly training sessions. This is crucial because your body needs time to recover properly in order to avoid injuries and to ensure that you are not overtraining as may have happened in the past. Just remember: “Time spent resting and recovering is just as important as the time spent training.”
M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, 2007.