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044: Training Paces Explained: What is marathon pace? lactate threshold? tempo pace?

running Jul 12, 2018



The internet in filled with training plans designed for all sorts of race distances with the allure of magic paces and workouts to help you reach your peak.  In this episode we break down where these plans come from, what some of the vocabulary means, and hopefully educate you about how different paces can help you.  

First, the plans come from well intentioned exercise physiologists trying to take research on elite athletes and adjust it to mortals.  The issue is when reducing the paces or distances, the benefits might not be the same. Also, given the background of an elite runner versus a more typical runner, even identical workouts will result in different physical adaptations.  

The paces in these plans often fall into one of these categories.

Marathon pace- This is what you can sustain for 2:30 to 3:00 regardless of how far that gets you.  If you finish a marathon around 4:22(10 minute miles) your "marathon pace" in training is still not 10:00, it’s probably closer to 9:30

Half marathon pace- This is the pace you can hold for 1:00-1:30.  This pace can be very useful for long steady state runs for marathon training regardless of finishing time

Threshold pace - aka lactate threshold, or LT pace- This is a pace you could run for a one hour race.  This pace is the speed when your body is just balanced between producing fatigue causing byproducts and eliminating the byproducts.  

  • There are two major workouts around this speed. Steady state runs at threshold pace encourage the raising of this threshold level.
  • Combo workouts, where you shift between paces about and below this level (5k and marathon pace for example) help the body figure out how to deal with the fatigue and painful byproducts while still running at a decent pace.  These workouts are brutal and require plenty of recovery.

Tempo runs are a specific workout involving 20 minutes at threshold pace.  Over the years they have become incorrectly synonymous with any steady state run.  Since Jack Daniels brought them to popularity, I feel that his alternate workout of intervals slightly faster than threshold pace with small recovery that gives a total of 20-30 minutes of work should be the only acceptable variant using the name tempo run.  However, to be fair, I am guilty of misusing the name with my own running.  

Fartlek training is a Swedish term from the training method introduced in the 1930s.  It translates to speed play and was originally a very unstructured method of changing pace during a run.  There are no required distances, times, or paces. We are big fans of this method because it has shown strong cardio benefits and can be manipulated to essentially any training goal.  The structure of speeds and recovery time can make this workout fall anywhere from easy to very challenging and the varieties are virtually limitless.

VO2 max is a measurement of how much oxygen the body can consume in a certain time.  The theory suggests that if you increase the body’s ability to consume oxygen, you will be able to perform better.  Several high level coaches use this as the basis of their training. Workouts are run at the speed that first creates a VO2 max, and all runs are performed at a percentage of this pace.  High level coaches create amazing athletes, so this method has become very popular, but the latest research shows a lack of correlation between VO2 max and actual performance. This does not make this training method pointless, but does suggest that training does not require such a tight time window for paces.  

 To sum it all up, there are lots of training plans, and athletes can be successful with most plans as long as they stay healthy.  It seems like there are a few basic rules for improving regardless of the plan.

  • Increase the amount of running you do (gradually and realizing the diminishing returns)
  • Do not run at the same pace every day
  • Use effort based training that takes into account multiple stresses on your body beyond just running
  • Progress slowly and reap the long term benefits

Hope you enjoy it!! Let us know if you have any questions that you would like answered on our show!   

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