Threshold Training - 2011

Time for the second phase of my marathon preparation. This will be the Threshold Phase. For an overview of the overall plan check out Melbourne Marathon 2011 Outline. Let me begin with the straight details:


  • 4 x 8 day cycles + recovery/test week.


  1. Increase the speed and time I can sustain running at anaerobic threshold

  2. Enhance ability to run relatively quick at low effort with better substrate use

Aim number 2 really just carries over from the base phase. My long run in each cycle should cover that. My plan is to continue on with the same approach from the base phase. That approach is run for 3 hours at about my aerobic zone (70-82%HRmax). The pace won't be pushed on these sessions, that's what the other key sessions are for. I want the speed of these runs to naturally develop. For a more detailed explanation on the ins and outs of my long read The Marathon Long Run.

Now for details on Threshold training:

I've defined my Threshold heart rate zone as 155-166bpm (83-88%HRmax). It is a little arbitrary, but seems to work both in training and racing to some extent. Instead of worrying about all different scientific definitions, various forms of measurement or being too accurate, I like to apply a working definition.

Threshold is an intensity range where lactic acid is
produced at a higher rate than can be cleared or metabolised by the body. The
further above threshold the intensity is, then the quicker fatigue develops due
to acidosis.

For the two pronged goal of increasing both the speed and time I can sustain at threshold, I will employ a two pronged attack. So two key runs each 8 day cycle.

The first will be a 15km or one hour run, that I is held at a constant speed (terrain/weather permitting). The intensity should feel to be at or a little under my threshold. It will likely give an average heart rate at the bottom of the range and there shouldn't be much heart rate creep over the run. Usually I will run the majority on feel, especially the first section, only checking the heart rate just to make sure I'm not ridiculously off the mark or to ensure I don't slack off in the latter part. While there is always cross over benefit between sessions, the focus for this is enhancing my ability to keep running at close to threshold intensity.

Second part of the attack is faster running. In the planning stage I am looking at running for 2x20min (3-5min jog recovery) at a little above threshold. The first repeat will usually be run on feel, and for the second I will aim to get the speed up a little bit more, keeping an eye on the heart rate and sense of breathing. The feel for these sessions should begin as comfortably fast, but develop a mild burn throughout each repeat. It should be difficult to hold pace towards the end, but not debilitating. I would expect my heart rate to sit in the upper part of the threshold range, with potentially a little excursion above. If I do race, then the race will likely take the place of this session. Racing will usually result in a little extra recovery requirement too. Obviously this is about pushing the speed up.

This style of training can really hammer me. Not so much in the form of injury, but more in a fatigue, failure to recover or just get sick way. If I do get it right, past experience has shown I can make some impressive increases in fitness and performance. By also not getting in a lot of volume at the higher VO2 area, I should be able to avoid sending the body towards an early peak. The in-between running will have to be managed on a day to day basis. Too easy, too much recovery will likely tilt my body towards peaking, but too little will send me in a downward spiral. I need to be able to work just hard enough to allow moderate adaptation, which will likely blunt the absolute speeds I can get out of myself.

There is still a requirement for faster running. Without it I won't be quite ready for the VO2 work in the next phase. This will be a session of hill and/or track repeats at something substantially faster than threshold running. It will likely be equivalent to about 5000m race pace, but I am not too concerned about being exact. Essentially it will involve a few repeats that take 1-3 minutes, with similar recoveries. I am more concerned with preparing the body to handle the stress of the running. It is the muscles and tendons that are likely to be my weak point. While there will be a degree of acidosis, I will aim to not absolutely swamp my body and impact on the aerobic training.

Sample Week:

The order and timing of my sessions, isn't always ideal. There is a lot of influence from all my other commitments. So what I do achieve is really a best fit aprroach with what training times I have available. An 8-day cycle (week) will look something like this:

Day 1: Basic run (aerobic conditioning or easier) often a double as commute to work. (8-12km)

Day 2: Basic run (aerobic conditioning) (8-13km)

Day 3: Threshold 15km (20-25km)

Day 4: VO2 prep: track/hill repeats (15km)

Day 5: Basic run - post night shift, completely based on feel, but always easy if at all. (0-10km)

Day 6: Long: 3hrs (25-35km)

Day 7: Basic run (aerobic conditioning) (8-13km)

Day 8: Threshold Repeats 2x20min (15-18km)

Total: 100-145km/8 days (87-126km/week)
The weekly kilometer range isn't a goal in itself, it is simply the result of the training I do. The main idea is to run a minimum of of 6 out of 8 days, prefereably each day, and that I get the desired training effect from the key sessions.


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