FIND YOUR TEMPO
The lactate threshold, or tempo run, has traditionally been hard to define, but here’s why it should be an essential part of your schedule
THREE DECADES AGO, a team of exercise physiologists led by Bertil Sjodin of Sweden’s National Defence Research Institute put eight distance runners on treadmills. First, the scientists tested the runners’ blood at various paces, focusing on lactate, a chemical thought to correlate with racing performance. Then they asked the runners to do weekly 20-minute training runs at a pace they called VOBLA – the speed at which there was an ‘onset of blood lactate accumulation’ (OBLA) – what we call tempo runs.
The results, published in the European Journal of
Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, hit the 1980s running community like a bombshell. After 14 weeks of such training, the runners saw their OBLA paces drop by four per cent, from 5:43 per mile to 5:29.
Sjodin’s was one of several studies to highlight the tempo run as a critical element in training. But it also produced the misconception that there is one perfect pace at which these runs should be done – and that the best way to do them is to find that pace and stick to it for about three miles. That single-minded focus, however, isn’t what the latest exercise physiology shows, nor what many top runners are actually doing.