Aerobic Threshold (AT) workouts or Tempo as they are commonly referred to are in my opinion one of the biggest weapon a coach has to train any level of distance runners from Marathoners to even 800 meter runs this workout is critical. Now don't let the debate on whether Tempo and Aerobic Threshold runs are the same or slightly different we can get into that later in future articles for now lets focus on how to run a true Aerobic Threshold (AT) workout why its so helpful to fully develop a distance runner.
Aerobic Threshold workouts can be done in many variations from ones broken into pieces to the more traditional ones but for the sake of today's article we will focus on the traditional AT runs. Keep in mind these are not to be used with runners that have just started to run regardless of age. You need at least a solid 2-3 months of consistent training before these should be introduced an even then should be done gradually. As an introduction to this workout or any other form of speed workouts its a good idea to through in workouts such as fartleks a few weeks before. These will get the runners comfortable with more aggressive pacing but in short burst that are achievable and encouraging. We will cover fartleks in the future as well for those that are not familiar with them.
So why should we do AT runs as part of our training cycle? We are already doing Vo2Max and hill repeats and interval speed training so why do we need this workout as part of our arsenal? These workouts focus on a particular system that is critical to any distance runner. There is a point in your pace where once you speed up to that pace you start to significantly buildup lactate which will cause a runner to slow down. The key of this workout is to push that threshold or imaginary line more and more so that as a runner you can run farther at a faster pace before that buildup causes the slowing. Lactate is a simple a by-product of metabolism that is natural and part of a healthy individual body's reaction but too much of it will slow a runner so we do these AT workouts to increase that point where lactate starts to overwhelm the muscles.
Now to put this knowledge to use in training. As any speed workouts this should be done with a 1-2 mile warm-up at Easy pace to start. The AT run should be done in an area where you can safely run without crossing streets or other area where you would need to stop and disrupt the workout. A trail or a large street loop where you don't have to cross a street by turning right each time at each corner to make a square loop. You may need to do the loop multiple times to reach the planned distance or time. You can even do this on a track but I will warn you its mentally tougher to do that but that in itself is anther topic for a future discussion. The AT run typical should be 20 to 30 min so depending you your ability it will be anywhere from 3 to 6 miles. For those training for 8K and below there is no need to go much longer but those training 10K or especially Half and Full Marathon should build up to doing 8-12 miles of AT workouts. Here is the critical part. Make sure you are doing this at the right pace. Too fast and you will not improve you threshold as you will be going anaerobic and too slow you will not get the benefit to push that threshold up. Use our WAR Training pace calculator to find your correct pace based on your most recent 5K or other similar race distance. Once you calculate based on that time look at the "tempo pace: and use this. If you don't have a good race to use to calculate this pace use this rule of thumb. The run should feel "control hard" meaning you can hold that pace for a while but its difficult. Or do the talk test. If you are asked a question you could answer yes or no but not hold any long conversation at that pace
Now to put this all together and place it correctly in your training cycle. Do an AT workout about every 2 to 3 weeks. Now this varies depending on many factors but its a good rule of thumb. I've used them weekly training for a marathon and every 3 weeks training runners for a 3200 meter race. If at all possible don't but this workout back to back with other hard days and definitely not too close to an upcoming race. It takes a good 3-5 days to recovery from this workout and longer than most other speed workouts. As always do these with a warm-up and with a proper cool-down 1-2 miles for each. Make sure pace is even on these runs and no kicking at the end to make up time it takes you anaerobic and our of the systems zone we are trying to improve. Here is what this workout might look like:
2 mile warm-up at Easy pace
4 miles at AT Pace
2 mile cool-down at Easy pace
As always best of luck and enjoy!
Coach Rojas has 11 combined years of coaching experience at various levels including coaching a high school D1 State finalist team and 3 years in a row of a top 10 state ranking. He is passionate of the sport of running and loves to see new runners take up the sport! He wants to share a lifetime of running experience to all