by Steve Sisson
The goal of threshold training is to aid the running muscles in increasing their ability to effectively use the available oxygen & to shift your level of comfort or threshold to correspond with a faster speed. These types of workouts are done at a sub-maximum effort & the athlete’s principle concern should be running at an effort that one would be able to maintain for about 1 hour in a race. This will correspond with between 80-85% perceived effort.
Tempo Runs: A tempo run is a controlled run of between 20-40minutes at a running pace of 80-85% effort or “comfortably hard”. It is important to perform tempo runs under good weather conditions & on relatively flat terrain in order to maintain a steady intensity of effort for a prolonged time. It can be a big challenge to perform the tempo run at the proper pace & resist making the tempo run into a time trial. This is a great workout for practicing your ability to concentrate & keep in touch with how your body feels while running comfortably hard.
Progressive Pace Runs: The progressive pace run is almost a hybrid of the tempo run & the long run. The goal is to learn to run faster as the run gets longer. A progressive pace run should be between 10-14 miles, with each mile run progressively faster. You should start with a 10 mile progressive pace run. It is very important that you determine the correct pace per mile before you begin & run as closely as possible to the prescribed times. I recommend starting at a pace 3 minutes slower than your race pace & cutting the pace down 30 seconds per mile for 5 miles, then cutting down 15 seconds per mile for the next 4 miles. This will mean that you will reach your race pace at mile nine & then run as fast as possible for the final mile. For example, if your race pace were 8 minutes per mile then you should run your miles in this downward progression:
As you become more comfortable with this workout & you are ready to tackle 12 or 14 miles, you will need to adjust the time progression a little. For the 12 mile option you should switch from 30 second cut-downs to 15 second cut-downs after the third mile & run the last two miles as fast as possible; for the 14 mile option you should also switch from 30 second cut-downs to 15 second cut-downs at mile 3 but run the last three miles as fast as possible. This workout should only be done once per month, as it has a tendency to beat up the legs more than the runner will recognize. It is an excellent self-confidence boost.
Marathon Goal Pace (MGP) Runs: These runs stand just outside of the definition of threshold training but are done primarily to teach the body to feel comfortable at the pace the athlete wants to run for the marathon. This pace usually is uncomfortable for many runners as the feel like it is too slow to "get in the groove" but fast enough to be beyond comfortable running. For this reason & to encourage muscle adaptation, it is important to do MGP runs.