Tempo runs. Threshold runs. What is this lingo?

Clearly different! (you're SO going to have to be a certain age to get this)

Clearly different! (you’re SO going to have to be a certain age to get this … or use the tiniest bit of deduction)

The thing about wanting, or rather thinking I need, to do a bit more ‘proper’ training, rather than just ‘spending time on my feet’ which is kind of what I think I did for London, is that you need to get to grips with the lingo. And I’m really struggling.

What is a tempo run?

What is a threshold run?

The various magazines I’ve been reading aren’t really that helpful. They tend to assume you know. Here’s a summary of what I’ve gleaned from them over the last six months:

Tempo run: Talking is difficult. Tempo effort is ‘comfortably hard’. It’s controlled, sustained and efficient running.  70-75% of maximum effort. If you’re running too hard in tempo, your heart will be beating through chest, you’ll be puffing vigorously, muscles will start to ache and you’ll really want to slow down. Running at ‘lactate threshold’. Running at this level trains the body to handle lactic acid more efficiently.

I always want to slow down, however fast or slow I’m going. And talking is always difficult.

Threshold run:  8/10 effort where you can say a word or two but not hold a conversation. It pushes the boundaries further than tempo. Running on the edge of your comfort zone for longer. ‘Controlled discomfort’; 80-85% of maximum heart rate. At around 85% of max heart rate, or a perceived effort rating of 7-8 out of 10, most people reach their lactate threshold, where lactic acid begins to build up in the muscles, producing a burning feeling.

I’m already way outside my comfort zone even putting on a pair of running shoes.

It seems some people (and magazine articles) use the two terms interchangeably, which confuses me even more, because these two summaries from various mags are clearly different, apart from the lactate thing, which I really don’t get. As in understand. My legs feel like their wasted quite a lot of the time. Not sure I’d use the word burning, though I have seen it written quite often.

I’ve also come across rate of perceived exertion (RPE), which seems to link in with the above.
0 vegging out
1-3 gentle walking, moderate runs. Conversation ok
4-6 tougher. ~60% of max heart rate. Full sentences hard
7-9 very tough. Peak of 85% of max heart rate
10 very strenuous. Sweaty and inarticulate.

I’m sweaty at whatever speed I run, and I’m inarticulate almost all the time.

And if 85% heart rate is what you’re aiming for in a threshold run, what is 100% heart rate? Is it dead of a heart attack because it’s trying to beat too often?  Okay, slightly facetious.  I do know max heart rate is 220 – age.  When I’m concentrating on my running, how on earth am I supposed to gauge 85% of my max heart rate?  I probably could count how often in a minute my heart beats out of my chest cavity trying to escape the exertion. I don’t want lots of gizmos and gadgets. They’re all extra weight to carry, and I’d rather learn what it feels like to be running, develop some muscle memory, rather than have lots of gadgets I need to keep referring to. That’ll just irritate me and interrupt me switching off the mental processes during runs.

Added to which, I usually run alone. I’m going to look even more flipping stupid if I’m trying to have a 3-4 word conversation with myself that I can’t keep up because it’s too exhausting.

And surely all this changes depending on how far you’re running. My ‘full effort’ to run 100m will be faster than my ‘full effort’ to run 400m, which will be faster than my ‘full effort’ to run 800m etc.

More to the point, WHY are we supposed to run at these levels of exertion? And for how long? What is their purpose? Perhaps I’ve been struggling so long to define them, that I simply haven’t registered anything about what is their point in a training program. Do we get fitter? Faster? More Duracell bunny-like (go for longer)? Chattier?

What does fitter mean anyway? There’s a nebulous sort of word. And as I know so well, being a bit run-fit by no stretch of the imagination means I’m any swim-fit.

Drawing board?

One thought on “Tempo runs. Threshold runs. What is this lingo?

  1. Pingback: Effort – 1, ability – 0 | PurpleRunning - Sally Easton's journey to the London Marathon 2013 ... and beyond ...

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