Lactate Threshold and Stamina Training for Beginning Runners

By Rick Morris

Two of the most noticeable and important fitness improvements you will enjoy as a beginning runner are increases in your endurance and stamina. The first improvements you will or already have noticed involve your overall endurance or your ability to run longer distances before you fatigue. The second most apparent improvement in your fitness level will be your stamina. While endurance and stamina are two closely related words, in terms of your running fitness there is one critical difference. Your endurance is a simple measure of how long you can run while stamina adds in a strength component. Stamina is a gauge of how long you can run at a relatively high work level or, more specifically to running, how long you can maintain a moderate to moderately hard pace. Lactate threshold training for beginners will help you improve your stamina.

There are a number of physiological factors that are involved in your stamina level, but the most critical is your lactate threshold (LT) . Other factors include your muscular strength, muscular resiliency, neuromuscular conditioning, running economy and mental or central nervous system conditioning.

The most efficient way to improve your lactate threshold is with true lactate threshold or lactate turn point training. True lactate threshold workouts are performed at a pace that is very close to your specific lactate threshold or the intensity level at which your body begins to lose its desired homeostasis or balance because of a buildup of the fatigue causing by products of energy production. In the vast majority of runners that intensity level is reached at or just slightly slower than their 10K race pace.

While running at your lactate threshold pace is the most efficient way to improve your LT, that doesn’t mean you should always run at that pace. Your true LT pace is a hard pace. It would be both very difficult and unwise to consistently train at a pace that hard. That is where tempo training comes in. Tempo training runs are performed at a variety of paces ranging from your marathon pace or a moderate pace to half marathon pace or a moderately hard pace. With true LT training you are limited to shorter, repeated training runs with rest intervals due to the hard pace. Tempo runs allow you to run for longer distances at more moderate paces which more specifically trains your stamina.

Which type of training runs should you do? Should you be doing the longer, more moderate paced tempo runs or the more intense, but short LT repeats? To maximize your stamina and lactate threshold gains you need both. As a beginning runners I would suggest starting with tempo training with the inclusion of some shorter LT training runs.

Here are some lactate threshold and stamina workouts to get you started.

Tempo Repeats

Most tempo runs are steady state continuous runs with no recovery. As a beginning runner you may want to ease in to tempo training with these shorter tempo repeats. You can do these tempo repeats on the track, trail, road or treadmill.

  • Description: After a warm up, run 6 x 5 minute repeats at a moderately hard pace.
  • Pace: Moderately hard or around half marathon pace. You should feel like are working at a fairly hard but relaxed pace.
  • Recovery: Recover between each 5 minute repeat with 2 minutes of rest.

Tempo Fartlek

This beginning runners tempo workout is a stepping stone between the tempo repeats and a standard tempo steady state run.

  • Description: Run between 15 and 45 minutes alternating between 5 minutes at an easy pace and 5 minutes at your tempo or a moderately hard pace.
  • Pace: Alternating between your easy endurance pace and a moderately hard tempo pace.
  • Recovery: None

Tempo Trainer

This is a standard tempo training run that runners at all levels perform on a year round basis.

  • Description: Run between 15 and 45 minutes at your tempo pace.
  • Pace: Run at a moderate to moderately hard pace. You should feel like you are working hard and your breathing should be substantially elevated but you should not feel like you are struggling or running at an extreme pace.
  • Recovery: None

Beginning Lactate Threshold Repeats

This is a true lactate threshold workout for beginning runners.

  • Description:  After a warm up, run 3 x 1 mile repeats at your LT or 10K pace.
  • Pace: LT or 10K pace. This should feel like hard, but not all out pace. Your breathing should be highly elevated and talking should be difficult but not impossible.
  • Recovery: Recover between each 1 mile repeat with 3 minutes of rest.