From the time of the classic study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 1979 by some of the most prominent names in exercise physiology (Farrell, Wilmore, Coyle, Billing and Costill), research has shown that the lactate threshold is the best physiological predictor of distance-running performance. The longer the race runners are training for, the more important it is to train the lactate threshold.
The closer the race pace will be to lactate-threshold pace, the more important it becomes to be able to hold a hard pace for an extended time. So, for the marathon and half marathon, the lactate threshold should be the focus of the training. The keys to success for the longer distance races are:
- Get the lactate threshold pace as fast as you can
- Be able to run as close to your lactate-threshold pace as possible for as long as possible
- The lactate threshold is more responsive than VO2 max to training. While VO2 max plateaus after a few years of high-intensity training, the lactate threshold can still increase, improving your performance.
Training the lactate threshold increases the speed at which lactate accumulates and acidosis occurs, enabling runners to run at a higher percentage of VO2 max for a longer time. Increasing the lactate-threshold pace allows runners to run faster before they fatigue because it allows them to run faster before oxygen-independent metabolism begins to play a significant role. The benefit to being able to run aerobically at 5:30 pace compared to 6:00 pace is obvious.
Runners can target the lactate threshold by running at or near their lactate-threshold pace. Research has shown that runners who do specific lactate-threshold workouts have a significantly greater improvement in their ability to hold a hard pace compared to those who train with only long or short intervals.