Running is a simple activity right? Left, right, left, right repeat…. It’s an activity that always felt natural to me and one I could easily understand. The skill acquisition component of running was much less than say hockey where I had hit a wall, or cricket and tennis where my apparent ceiling in ability was defined. With running I found the same ceiling in potential did not exists. With more running came a greater ability, the greater ability allowed for more running. It was a cycle of constant improvement with little to get in the way. Or so it would seem.

The first word I learnt from the first “Fun Runner” magazine I ever owned back in 1986 was ’fartlek’ and easy run and long run. When I was first coached by John Atterton a new barrage of terms entered my world; ’intervals’, ’circuit’, ’hill repeat’ and ’mid run surge’. Each one had a place and were used to describe the subtle differences in training.

My running dictionary had continued to expand over the past 25 years which now exhibits terms that were not even invented back in 1986 unless of course you are a devotee to Peter Coe* who wrote the middle distance training textbook based on his observations in coaching his son Sebastian Coe. Two such terms are ’tempo’ and ’threshold’. Aren’t they just the same thing?

Apparently not. From my understanding tempo could mean any running intensity as long as it is accurately described. Most commonly I find it being used with reference to a ’tempo run’ which is advocating a running intensity greater than a typical easy run but less than race intensity.

Ian Leitch used to set me some tempo running in my Monday run in my mid-twenties. It was enjoyable for me to complete an hour run starting easy, picking it up for the middle 15 or 20mins then backing off to easy again. This is my main experience with tempo.

Threshold‘ on the other hand is a different beast. It has been developed around scientific inquiry and is based around ’the point of no return’ in terms of fatigue. The term refers to ’Anaerobic threshold’ where the level of lactic acid in the muscles becomes limiting to performance. Most Aussie runners I know of like to perform a ’threshie’ every week or so and usually a run ot a consistent pace lasting between 20 50 minutes. For well-trained runners it’s somewhere between their flat out 10k running pace and half marathon running pace. The magic in the threshold run is the good it does the body. Again taking from great little book from Reaburn and Jenkins, the big winners in training at this ’hurt but hold’ intensity are;

  • Increased VO2 max (ok there is another new term!)
  • Raising the ceiling of the anaerobic threshold or race pace
  • Increased ability to remove lactic acid
  • Decreased production of lactic acid
  • Improved nervous system patterning at race pace intensity

(Taken from Reaburn and Jenkins, Training for Speed and Endurance, 1996, p51)

So given all the great benefits of the ’threshold run’ I am well practiced at its use. Today was time for a key 15km threshold run which I did running point to point along the Fernleigh track. I was pleased with the focus I had for 15km and being 11 weeks from my goal race I was not expecting the speed at this intensity to be the same as when I next do it. Ie: there is still room for improvement.

So given the complex study of running it’s nice to know the activity itself has not changed. Left, right, left, right, repeat ……..