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Pikes training is a blast.  Seriously, it's so much more complex and intricate than your standard 16-week canned marathon plan.  There are so many things one can do to prepare, and so many ways to leave oneself wondering if enough has been done!  It doesn't matter if you're an elite, grizzled middle-of-the-pack vet, or newbie just hoping to hit the cutoffs...there's always something more to be done.

Of all the training one can do to prepare for Pikes, I just wanted to share one specific little tidbit that I think is oft-overlooked.  Heck, I would say that of all the things one can do to get faster at almost any distance, the following may be the least done yet most effective of them all - the LT run.

Lactate Threshold - ok, so lets say you're out for a stroll.  Your body takes in oxygen, puts it in your red blood cells, delivers it to your muscles.  Your muscles do some magical turn-oxygen-into-wine type stuff and everyone is happy.  Start walking a bit faster and your muscles get in line and ask for a little more oxygen.  After all, they're doing more work because you're asking them to.  Giving them this oxygen allows them to flush out the waste they are producing and therefore make you continue to feel chipper.  The least you can do for them is breathe a little faster and give them what they're asking for, right?  

WELL, eventually you hit a point where it doesn't matter how fast you breathe or how much oxygen you deliver to your muscles.  They're using as much as they can as quickly as they can, and NOW they have to turn to other mechanisms to deliver the output you demand of them.  The thing is, once you begin dipping into these other systems (you may hear the word "anaerobic" being thrown around), your days (well, minutes, actually) are numbered.  Your muscles are producing more crap than can be removed by your blood cells.  For a short while, you can grin and bear it, but eventually you have no choice but to cry uncle as the pain causes you to slow down, stop, quit, collapse, cry for mommy, or ultimately own you in some way, shape, or form.

So, that pace where your muscles are producing precisely as much crap as you are flushing out is called your Lactate Threshold.  Other terms have been applied to it as well, but we're going to go with "LT" for purposes of this post.  For well-trained folks, they can hang out at this threshold for quite a while, maybe even a half-marathon distance.  This magical pace is definitely slower than a 5k.  LT pace feels uncomfortable but, at least for a while, not unbearable.  You would not want to carry on a conversation at this pace, but you could squeeze out a few words if need be.  There are other unscientific ways of measuring this pace.  I have found that for me, a HR of 160-165 usually puts me in that zone.  Do the math, carry the four, cross-simplify, and I guess a rule of thumb is that as you approach 87-90% of max HR you're about in the right spot.

Great, so what does that mean for me? asks the reader.  Well theoretically, if you spend some time hanging out in this zone on your runs(but not faster - you're working a different system then), your LT should get faster.  In other words, you should be able to run faster while staying aerobic if you spend time right at that threshold.

So how MUCH time?  And when?  Good question.  One needs to find time to do Max VO2 work.  (typically called "speedwork")  Hills are important for strength.  Neuromuscular firing-up can't be overlooked.  And heavy aerobic days, aka the long run is critical.  So how do you fit LT work in?

Depending on what I'm training for, I make sure I hit LT at LEAST 1x every ten days or so.  For longer mountain and ultra stuff, I think it's even more important than regular Max VO2.  My bread and butter LT workouts are done in two varieties.

  • One of them is the steady-state.  A typical steady state for me will be done on something like the Santa Fe trail.  5 mile warm-up at 8:30 to 9:00 pace, turn around, and go 2 miles at 6:30-6:40, jog easy for a half mile, and do 2 more miles at that quicker pace.  (Depending on how fast you are, your LT pace is likely 2-ish minutes per mile slower than your optimal recovery pace)
  • The other one I like involves shorter intervals with short recovery.  I'll go up to a place like the Stratton Reservoir where there's a flat 1000-meter loop.  I'll click off 2 sets of 5 of them at a HR of up to 165 with 60 seconds walking recovery between them.  This way, I keep dipping into and out of that magical place.

The best part of these two workouts is that if done right, you feel like you could do more.  They leave you feeling hungry, not spent.  This lends credence to the coachspeak of "train smarter, not harder".  It also plays into the training mantra of Stress.  Recover.  Adapt.  LT runs have a low recovery cost compared to Max VO2, hill/strength, and neuromuscular uberfast stuff.

Dr. Jack Daniels says it a little more geekily than I do, so if my babble is nothing but confusing, check him out.

Of course, LT runs are just part of a much larger picture.  But without them, you may be leaving some of your potential on the shelf.

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Comment by Jill Gaebler on July 18, 2014 at 8:32pm

Great explanation of a complicated topic.  Thank you.

Comment by Bill Beagle on July 18, 2014 at 7:26pm

6 1/2 minute miles??? You're in a different time zone from me brother. The only Jack Daniels i'm familiar with is for post-training remedies. This was a great post, thanks for sharing. I'm guessing, in all seriousness (yes, I know, doesn't happen often) that was a big part of my Ascent struggle last year so I'm going to try one of these LT's....just not in 6 and a half minutes. Thanks Sean.

Comment by Brandon Stapanowich on July 18, 2014 at 5:39pm

Informative write up! Salty body shots off Teresa is another secret!

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