Threshold Running for Endurance

Recently, one of my runners I coach through Running Mums Australia asked me to explain more about threshold sessions in training... and inspired me to write this post....

Have you ever had a run where you just get stronger throughout and feel you are running comfortably hard, not easy but it feels good and strong? You’re probably running near your aerobic threshold. Many runners do these runs by feel and without knowing it when they start out easy and feel stronger and stronger over a particular run – and although the run doesn’t remain easy, it is solid and steady, - and that can feel fantastic!

Technically? Your aerobic threshold is the point between aerobic and anaerobic running (anaerobic is where you go in to oxygen debt, ie you are using more oxygen than you’re taking in). Running close to your threshold is around 83-85% of VO2Max, so on the high end of your aerobic “zone” but not crossing over in to the “red” zone as it is sometimes called.


Benefits? Running long efforts just below your threshold benefits runners because over time it actually pushes the point of your threshold ie. as your threshold extends you can run faster, for longer – so it improves your efficiency, or endurance – great for distance runners! As well as this, it conditions us to handle running harder for a prolonged time mentally, as well as physically.

What does threshold running feel like? Subjectively I tend to describe threshold runs as a “strong/solid, but controlled effort/pace”… so, it will take a fair bit more concentration than your easy, conversational running (chatting to a running buddy while you run easily) but not near as much effort or concentration as interval training or a 5k race. Somewhere around half marathon effort is where your threshold pace lies.

But, of course, it all depends… there are so many factors in training (and life) and your threshold at any given day may change depending on variables such as fatigue, where you are in your training cycle, sleep, hydration, the list goes on. So, one of the aims of these runs is to make sure you get in to the steady, solid effort for this particular session, on this particular day. Some days it will be faster than others, but over time, as with everything, as you “train” your body to run at this point, you will get better at feeling the effort level required. One of the risks of threshold training is monitoring your watch/pace rather than how you are feeling, for example, always trying to better your pace/time (I am actually quite guilty here!). That is not the aim of threshold running and can be detrimental to training (causing too much stress and fatigue for the body).

How? Depending on your training schedule and experience you can add threshold runs in to your program weekly or fortnightly. Start with several blocks at threshold, which should not feel extremely hard eg 3 x 5mins with a break easy jogging break between, and work up to 3 x 8-10min. Eventually work toward longer threshold runs of 20-40mins (all with a 15min warm up and cool down). Try to do this over flatter routes so that the effort remains consistent throughout.

Threshold runs can be enjoyable and very satisfying as they allow you to run at a strong effort, and run by feel with less impact on the body than some other training sessions, and have the benefit of improving your fitness and endurance over time.