Coach Will: Tempo Runs Part Two - Lactate Threshold

Tempo Runs Part Two: Lactate Threshold

In my last blog post, I discussed the benefits of aerobic threshold and explained why it’s the foundational block for all anaerobic exercise. We discussed everything from the metabolic processes that take place, percentages of max HR and how to apply aerobic threshold workouts to your own training. If you have not yet read the piece on Aerobic Threshold, I would highly recommend you read it before continuing.

In order to understand the lactate threshold tempo, we need to understand what lactic acid is. Lactic acid is the result of broken down glucose that is oxidized to pyruvate. Through lactic fermentation, pyruvate is converted into lactic acid. It’s important to note that our bodies are constantly producing lactic acid even with light exercise or at rest. However, our bodies clear the lactic acid at a rate faster than it’s produced. During intense exercise however, the body is unable to clear the lactate fast enough and excess amounts build up causing the pH levels in our blood to become more acidic. To learn more about this process I’ll refer you back to the original blog post mentioned earlier about aerobic threshold.  What you need to know is that the faster we run, the further we drift away from the aerobic system. Eventually we reach a threshold where the body struggles to clear the lactic acid as fast as we produce it. This is that burning sensation in the muscles we get during intense exercise. The imaginary line, or threshold right before we go completely anaerobic, is where our focus will be for this blog post.

I want you to understand the why aspect of lactate threshold training.  Similar to the aerobic threshold, the lactate threshold can increase through proper training. As a percentage of max HR, the typical range for lactate threshold training is 80-90%. The better fitness you’re in, the higher percentage of max HR you can reach before you cross this threshold. As we learned in the previous post, the body is incredibly efficient at burning energy in the aerobic zone. If we can run at a higher percentage of max HR before an overshoot of lactate build-up, we can run faster paces for longer distances.

How and when do I apply these types of tempo runs? The “Base Phase” is what I refer to as the aerobic conditioning period, which would include aerobic thresholds, increase in aerobic volume (mileage) as well as speed maintenance (short intervals like 200’s, strides etc). In the last third of the base phase, we begin working in lactate threshold tempos. These are the workouts that allow our bodies to increase our lactate threshold as described above. The lactate threshold tempos will be used from the end of the base phase through the competition phase and finally tapering in volume during the sharpening/ peak phase.

Examples of these workouts will change throughout the different phases. An example of these workouts during the different phases could look something like this for a 3:30 Marathoner (8:00 mi/pace).

Base Phase

5mi Tempo @ 7:20-7:30

Competition Phase

4x 2mi Tempo w/ 90s rest @ 7:10-7:20

Sharpening/ Peak Phase

3mi Tempo @ 7:05-7:15

Similar to the previous blog post I will also outline an example of a high school runner who’s training for the 5k’s and is in 19:00 (6:07/mi pace) fitness.

Base Phase

3mi Tempo @ 6:35-6:45

Competition Phase

3x 2mi Tempo w/ 90s rest @ 6:25-6:35

Sharpening/ Peak Phase

2mi Tempo @ 6:10-6:20

Remember this is only focusing on the lactate threshold component. With any well-designed training program, you have other workouts that compliment each phase of training. Lactate Threshold tempos should not be the only aspect of your training but rather a key piece to the puzzle. This type of training can be applied from every race ranging from 400M dash to the marathon. Though the workouts will vary depending on what you are training for, the physiology is the same. To recap, through proper implementation of lactate threshold tempo’s, you will increase your lactate threshold allowing you to run faster paces for longer distances.

Congrats! You’re 2/3 of the way through this tempo series. The next blog post will cover the third and final tempo run, anaerobic threshold. If you have any questions about lactate threshold tempo runs or are not sure how to work this into your training routine, send me an email.

 -Coach Will

 If you enjoyed this read or have questions for Coach Will, let him know by sending him an email at

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I've been running since April of 2011, and I got into it mostly for weight loss purposes.  I quickly realized that I loved running and became interested in getting better and setting goals.  Each season brings different challenges, and I like being coached by people that coach me based on my personal goals, rather than a generic website that makes us all one type of runner.  RunningLane is perfect for runners seeking specific training tailored to their own personal goals.