Determine Your Threshold Pace

Tempo runs are the bread and butter of most training programs. Tempo runs are steady runs of at least 20 minutes at an intensity aimed to raise the lactate threshold. Different methods can be used to determine your threshold pace, from something as seemingly vague as feel ("comfortably hard") to more exact measurement of 88-92% of maximum heart rate.

One of the most popular formulas was established by Dr. Jack Daniels, a professor of physical education, renowned college coach and former Olympian. Based on research conducted in the 1970s with his colleague Jimmy Gilbert on VO2max values of elite distance athletes and their performances, he created the VDOT value to assess fitness and determine training paces.

The ideal way to get a VDOT value is to use a recent race performance that best reflects current fitness. For example, if you recently ran a 26:56 5K, you can enter your time into this VDOT calculator, which will give you a VDOT value of 35.07. The table shows that an ideal threshold pace for 20 minutes would be about 9:07 minutes per mile. While 20 minutes is ideal, 18 minutes can also be effective, particularly if one likes to increase the pace a little at the end. Those training for challenging cross country races or longer races from 10 miles to the marathon and beyond can do longer tempo runs, but should adjust the pace. A runner with the 35.07 VDOT can refer to this table to determine that a 30 minute tempo run should be 9:19 pace, and an hour run at about 9:37 pace.

Those who have not raced in several months or has not yet run a race can run a mile time trial, which I discussed last month in Measure Your Milestones With One Simple Mile. A mile time trial of 8:00 results in, yep, a 35.07 VDOT value! If you have a long gap of more than a couple months in your racing schedule and want to do more than a mile, go for it! Not everyone, however, is able to keep focused on holding a race pace effort by themselves without other people around them to inspire the competitive impulse.

Incorporating tempo runs regularly into your training calendar along with other workouts should establish a solid foundation of strength and endurance that could lead to an improvement in race performances and overall fitness. The VDOT calculator is also a handy guide to determine pacing for easy training runs, marathon pace, intervals and repetitions. What are your favorite tempo workouts?

Tony has been a runner for over three decades, competing in cross country and track in high school and college, and road races for various clubs. He's served as team captain for several Corporate Challenge teams at YMCA of the USA, and has informally coached many friends over the years.

Tags: This Week in Runners, Y, YMCA, Run, Running, training, tempo, threshold pace, Dr. Jack Daniels, VDOT

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