Marathon Lactate Threshold Training Workouts

By Rick Morris

When you think of marathon training the first image that may come to mind is of a solitary athlete running long distances at a slow to moderate pace. That type of running is surely a major part of marathon training, but there are other types of training that are necessary to reach your peak as a marathon runner. You need speed building VO2 max workouts, strength enhancing hill runs and stamina boosting tempo training. There is one more type of workout that’s just as important as the others – lactate threshold training. Marathon lactate threshold training workouts will lift your lactate turn point. You will be able to run at a faster pace before a build up in hydrogen ions, potassium and other metabolites cause you to become fatigued.

You may already know that you don’t reach your lactate turn point until you are running at close to 10K race pace. So, why is lactate threshold training important for the marathon? Because lactate threshold training doesn’t just improve your 10K race velocity. It also improves your speed in all other race distances, including the marathon.

Your focus during marathon training is probably on extending your long run, doing more goal pace running and increasing the distance of your tempo runs, but don’t forget to work on your lactate threshold – it’s one of the most efficient ways to improve your marathon race speed. Here are some marathon lactate threshold workouts to help you on your way to marathon success.

1 Minute Lactate Builders

You may be surprised to see a workout this short included in marathon training. I include this particular workout in every lactate threshold training routine for one simple reason – It works! It does a great job of improving your lactate turn point for all goal distances because it floods your muscles with a vast amount of lactic acid and the other metabolites that go along with it. It forces your body to adapt and become more efficient at converting lactic acid to energy and overcoming the fatigue that goes along with intense running paces. Your lactate turn point will rise along with your marathon race performance.

  • Description: 12 to 16 x 1 minute repeats at nearly full pace with 2 minute recovery jogs at an easy pace.
  • Pace: 1 minute repeats at a very hard pace. The pace of your repeats should be at very close to all out pace. Stay smooth and relaxed throughout the repeat.
  • Recovery: 2 minutes of very easy paced jogging between each 1 minute repeat

Marathon Fartlek

This one is part tempo run and part lactate threshold run. Since your marathon pace is on the low end of tempo run pacing, this is a very effective marathon lactate threshold session.

  • Description: Run between 30 and 90 minutes alternating between 4 minutes at goal marathon pace and 2 minutes at 10K pace. Start with 30 minutes early in your training cycle and gradually increase the distance each time you do this workout, up to about 90 minutes.
  • Pace: Alternating between 4 minutes at goal marathon pace and 2 minutes at 10K pace.
  • Recovery: None

1 to 5 x 1600/3200 Meter Compound Sets

Here is a marathon lactate threshold training compound set that you can do on the track or road. The track will make it easier to judge distance, but you really don’t need to hit exact distances with this one, so you could also estimate a 1 mile/2 mile sequence on the road.

  • Description: Run 1600 meters or one mile at 10K pace and then slow to marathon pace for 3200 meters or 2 miles. Start with one set early in your cycle and gradually increase to 3 sets for an intermediate runner or 5 sets for a highly experienced runner. Recover with 5 minutes of rest between each compound set.
  • Pace: 1600 meters at 10K pace and 3200 meters at goal marathon pace.
  • Recovery: No recovery between the components of each set. Recovery with 5 minutes of passive rest between each compound set.

1 – 2 – 3 Mile Compound Set

This is a tough marathon lactate threshold run that will elevate your ability to run at race pace when fatigued.

  • Description: Start with 1 mile at 5K pace. Then slow to 10K pace for the next two miles before finishing this 6 mile training run with 3 miles at goal marathon pace. Start with one set. The truly adventurous could advance to two sets.
  • Pace: One mile at 5K pace, two miles at 10K pace and 3 miles at goal marathon pace.
  • Recovery: No recovery. If you do multiple sets, recovery between each set with 5 minutes of passive rest.

Marathon Variety Run

I always like to run in different locations, especially during longer distance marathon training. Here is a workout that uses both the road and the track.

  • Description: Start with 2 miles on the road at goal marathon pace. Then hit the track for 1 mile at 10K pace. Head back out on the road for 2 more miles at goal marathon pace before heading back to the track for another mile at 10K pace. Next do another 2 miles at marathon pace on the road and then hit the track for 800 meters. Do the first 400 meters at 5K pace and the last 400 meters as fast as you can manage. Total distance in this workout is 8.5 miles.
  • Pace: Run the 2 mile road sessions at goal marathon pace. Do the first two 800 meter track portions at 10K pace. The last 800 meter track component is split into the first 400 at 5K pace and the last 400 as fast as you can manage.
  • Recovery: No recovery

Marathon 3 Mile Repeats

This is a tough workout that is great as a peaking workout. Do this one a couple of time near the end of your training cycle. You can do this one anywhere, but it may be easier to judge distance on the track

  • Description: Run 3 miles alternating between 800 meters at goal marathon pace and 800 meters at 5K pace. There is no recovery during the 3 mile run. Start with two sets in your first attempt and build up to 3 or 4 sets. If you do multiple sets, recover with 5 minutes of passive rest between each set.
  • Pace: Alternating between 800 meters at goal marathon pace and 800 meters at 5K pace.
  • Recovery: No recovery within each set. Recovery with 5 minutes of passive rest between each set you perform