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Threshold Run Guide: 5 Workouts for Threshold Training

Threshold training is beneficial for runners of all ability levels. Whether you’re just beginning or are training for your next marathon, incorporating threshold runs on a regular basis can help improve your fitness.

What is a threshold run?

A threshold run is a run where you run just below your lactate threshold pace for the entire run or for designated intervals within the run.

Lactate threshold indicates the point at which your body can no longer clear lactate from the blood. When your body accumulates more lactic acid than it can get rid of, it has reached what is referred to as it’s “lactate threshold”. This occurs around the same point when your body starts producing energy anaerobically, without oxygen.

Threshold training involves finding your lactate threshold, and then incorporating runs at this pace consistently throughout training. Your threshold running pace can change as you gain fitness, allowing your body to run faster and more efficiently as threshold increases.

When to use threshold training?

Threshold runs are beneficial for runners of all fitness levels – regardless of whether you are a beginner or advanced. Incorporating threshold training in any season of running is helpful and relatively easy to do.

Aim to complete threshold training runs once a week when base training or during an off season. If you are training for a goal race or working towards a PR, threshold runs can be completed up to two times a week.

Since your lactate threshold can change as your fitness improves, improvements in your threshold will transfer directly to your running and pace.

What’s the difference between tempo and threshold?

Tempo and threshold run paces are very similar, but tempo runs usually involve running a sustained effort for a longer period of time than during threshold training. Threshold running pace is slightly faster than tempo, and requires more effort.

Both styles of workouts are very similar, but threshold training is a bit more targeted and has a specific effort level which you need to meet in order to be successful.

How to Find Threshold Run Pace

In order to complete a threshold run, you’ll first have to find your lactate threshold. Finding your threshold running pace can be done a few different ways, each providing varying levels of accuracy.

  • If you’re using a smartwatch, there might be a feature built in to provide your lactate threshold based on past heart rate and workout data
  • Calculate your VO2 Max – lactate threshold occurs around 70-85% VO2 Max
  • Approximately 80-90% maximum heart rate
  • Use 10k pace from previous races
  • Run for 45-60 minutes at maximum effort

Once you have your lactate threshold, you’ll need to find the running pace where this occurs. In most cases, runners hit their lactate threshold around a 10k pace.

A heart rate monitor can be very helpful for checking in to see if you’ve reached threshold run pace. Lactate threshold usually occurs around 80-85% maximum heart rate. If you consider your effort level on the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, threshold running usually occurs around a 7-8.

Once you discover your threshold run pace, you can compare it to different training zone calculators. Understanding and utilizing threshold training will help you set appropriate goals and monitor your progress. Be sure to re-test your lactate threshold every couple of months, and re-evaluate goals accordingly.

How to Do Threshold Runs

Threshold runs are only beneficial if they are completed correctly. Luckily, the only thing you’ll really need to do is ensure you hit and maintain your threshold pace throughout the designated portions of the workout. Once you’ are confident in you’ve learned you threshold pace, you can begin to incorporate threshold running in your training.

To complete a threshold run, you’ll want to start with an easy warm up. After the warm up, you’ll want to run at threshold pace for either multiple repeated intervals, with a quick recovery in between, or for a sustained effort over multiple miles.

Threshold runs are beneficial for all runners. Try threshold training to run farther, faster and more efficiently than ever before.

5 Threshold Training Workouts

A threshold run will always follow the same formula: warm up, spend a certain amount of time or intervals at threshold pace, followed by a cool down. Here are a few threshold run workouts to try in your training.

  • 1-2 mile warm up, 3-6 miles at threshold pace, 1 mile cool down
  • 1-2 mile warm up, 3-4 x 10 minutes at threshold pace, 1 mile cool down
  • 1-2 mile warm up, 2-3 x 1 mile at threshold pace, 1 mile cool down
  • 1-2 mile warm up, 5-8 x 5 minutes at threshold pace, 1 mile cool down
  • 1-2 mile warm up, 2 x 20 minutes at threshold pace, 1 mile cool down

Benefits of Threshold Training

There are so many benefits that come from incorporating threshold runs in your training. Taking the time to determine your lactate threshold, and then using that in at least one workout each week, is a great way to improve your fitness. Here are some more specific benefits of threshold training.

  • Helps improve VO2 max and aerobic fitness
  • Increases lactate threshold over time
  • Can increase the time it takes to feel fatigued
  • Helps improve running efficiency
  • Allows you to run faster without fatigue
  • Improves running performance and fitness

These benefits, and more, all occur as your body improves its lactate threshold. As lactate threshold increases, you’ll be able to run faster and farther before feeling fatigued. According to a study published in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, VO2 max and anaerobic threshold is highly correlated to athletic performance.

This is demonstrated by the fact that seasoned endurance athletes usually hit their lactate threshold around 75-80% of their VO2 max, whereas untrained or beginner athletes hit their lactate threshold around 50-60% of their VO2 max.

According to Training 4 Endurance, threshold training involves increased muscle fiber recruitment and blood plasma volume. Running at threshold pace provides the body with short bits of practice working at these intense efforts while still providing the recovery it needs to avoid overtraining.

Incorporating threshold runs in your training is a great way to improve your fitness in every capacity. Whether you’re hoping to run farther, faster or simply more efficiently than before, threshold training will help you get there. Try it out today!

More tips for threshold runs: