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Smash Through the Wall: How to Increase Your Lactate Threshold for Running Glory

July 08, 2024 4 min read

Smash Through the Wall: How to Increase Your Lactate Threshold for Running Glory-VPA Australia

Have you ever hit that dreaded "wall" during a run? That point where your legs feel like lead, your breathing becomes ragged, and maintaining pace feels like an impossible feat? This, my fellow runner, is likely your lactate threshold rearing its ugly head. But by understanding the intricacies of your body’s performance and improving your lactate threshold is key to maximising your potential.

Lactate Threshold: The Science Behind the Burn

During exercise, your body breaks down glucose for energy. This process produces lactate, a byproduct that your muscles can use as fuel. However, as intensity increases, lactate production outpaces your body's ability to clear it. This buildup disrupts muscle function, leading to fatigue and that dreaded wall. Your lactate threshold (LT) is the intensity at which this tipping point occurs.

Think of LT as a dam holding back fatigue. By raising the dam wall (increasing LT), you can run faster and further before the lactate buildup overwhelms your system, making this performance indicator an essential for endurance athletes. Studies have shown that a higher LT directly translates to improved running performance at various distances.

Benefits of a Higher Lactate Threshold

Here are some ways a higher LT can transform your running:

  • Improved Endurance: A higher LT allows you to maintain a faster pace for longer distances. This translates to quicker race times and the ability to push through those previously grueling long runs with greater ease.
  • Delayed Fatigue Onset: With a higher LT, lactate buildup takes longer to hit critical levels. This means you can run harder for extended periods before experiencing fatigue, allowing you to dig deeper during workouts and races.
  • Faster Recovery: Studies also suggest that improved lactate threshold training can enhance your body's ability to clear lactate after exercise. This translates to quicker recovery times between workouts, allowing you to train more consistently.

Building a Stronger Dam: Strategies to Increase Your Lactate Threshold

Now that you understand the importance of LT, let's explore how to raise that metaphorical dam wall and become a more resilient runner. Here are some key strategies:

  • Build Your Aerobic Base:A strong aerobic foundation is crucial for lactate threshold training. Aim for consistent long-duration, low-intensity runs or ‘easy runs,’ gradually increasing your weekly mileage. This strengthens your cardiovascular system, helps build endurance and teaches your body to utilise fat as fuel, sparing glycogen, and delaying lactate production. A great example of this is incorporating zone 2 training in your routine.  
  • Embrace Tempo Runs:Tempo runs are sustained efforts at a comfortably hard pace, typically just below your lactate threshold. These runs train your body to work harder at a more manageable lactate level, gradually pushing your LT upwards. Aim for tempo runs lasting 20-40 minutes, 2-3 times per week.
  • Interval Training: Interval training involves alternating periods of high-intensity effort with recovery periods. This pushes your body beyond LT, forcing it to adapt and clear lactate more effectively. Popular formats include fartlek training (speed bursts during easy runs) and track intervals (repeating short, fast efforts with recovery jogs). Start with shorter intervals and gradually increase intensity and duration as you adapt.
  • Strength Training: Don't neglect the weight room! Strength training builds stronger muscles, which are more efficient at using oxygen and clearing lactate. Focus on exercises that target major muscle groups used in running, like squats, lunges, and core work.

Remember:

Consistency is key! Lactate threshold training takes time and dedication. Be patient, listen to your body, and gradually increase intensity and volume over time. Don't forget to incorporate rest days for proper recovery.  

Bonus Tips for Peak Performance

Here are some additional practices that can further enhance your running performance alongside lactate threshold training:

  • Fuel Your Runs: Proper nutrition is essential for optimal performance. Consuming a balanced diet rich in lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats can help the body efficiently utilise lactate and delay the onset of fatigue. Experiment with different pre-run snacks and gels to find what works best for you.  
  • Hydration is Key: Dehydration can significantly impact performance and lactate threshold. Stay hydrated throughout the day, especially before, during, and after your runs.
  • Prioritise Sleep: Sleep is vital for recovery and muscle repair. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night to maximise your training benefits.  

Beyond Lactate Threshold: Exploring Other Performance Factors

Remember, lactate threshold is just one piece of the running performance puzzle. Here are some additional areas to consider for a holistic approach:

  • Running Economy:This refers to your efficiency at converting oxygen into energy. Drills focusing on running form, cadence, and core strength can all contribute to improved running economy, indirectly boosting your lactate threshold.
  • Mental Toughness: The mind is a powerful tool in running. Developing mental resilience helps you push through fatigue and discomfort, allowing you to perform closer to your potential, especially during challenging lactate threshold workouts and races.
  • Race Day Strategies: Proper pacing, fueling, and race day tactics can significantly impact your performance. A well-executed race plan can help you leverage your improved lactate threshold for maximum results.

Bottomline

Increasing your lactate threshold is a journey, not a destination. By incorporating the strategies and tips, you can transform your lactate threshold from a performance barrier into a springboard for running success. Remember, consistency, dedication, and a little scientific understanding can make all the difference in your journey towards becoming a stronger, faster runner. So, lace up your shoes, embrace the challenge, and get ready to conquer that metaphorical wall. With dedication and a touch of science, you'll be well on your way to achieving your running goals and leaving your mark on the road (or track) ahead.

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