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Training & advice

The benefit of anaerobic lactate training

To take part in endurance activities and to run over long distances we have to maintain a good supply of oxygen to the muscles in order to use the glycogen and fat stored there for energy. Most of our running is aerobic, with oxygen. It is also possible to exercise beyond your maximum aerobic capacity for short periods of time. This is called anaerobic exercise because it doesn't use oxygen in the release of energy.

When you run at a pace that takes you above your maximum aerobic capacity you still use glucose or glycogen to provide energy (as you do when running aerobically) but lactic acid is also produced. This can be transported away by the blood vessels to the liver, where it is removed, but when you are working hard you produce the lactic acid faster than you can transport it away and you then creep closer and closer to your "lactate threshold". Once you go over this threshold fatigue sets in and you have to slow down. Training can push your lactate threshold up so that you can run at higher intensities and faster paces and then you can maintain a faster pace for longer periods of time or over more difficult terrain.

Lactate is a compound that occurs to a small extent all the time but the body can remove it and prevent it from accumulating. The harder your muscles work, the more lactate is produced until you can't shift it quickly enough. Lactic acid comprises of lactate and hydrogen ions. It is the hydrogen ions that make the muscle and blood more acidic. This interferes with the normal biochemical reactions and you start to feel a burning in your muscles or that you are running through treacle!

Your lactate threshold will normally be reached when you are running at around 80 - 90% of your maximum heart rate but fitter runners will be able to push higher than this before they reach their lactate threshold and possibly to around 95%. Hence, you can train to raise your lactate threshold. For an accurate assessment you could book yourself in for physiological testing at a University such as London Metropolitan University. The Sports Scientist will be able to give you your pace and heart rate at your lactate threshold so that you can be sure you are working at the right intensity to make the required improvements that ultimately enable you to maintain a faster pace for longer.

Training sessions that push you just above this level, then allow you to recover just below it will push your threshold up, as will threshold runs where you maintain that pace for a set amount of time.

A session that has you running just above and just below this level is sometimes referred to as a "lactate shuttle" session. An example would be 2 X 2 miles alternating the pace from marathon race pace to 5k race pace every 400m.

A session that has you running at your threshold pace is known as a "threshold run" and is often run for around 20 minutes (parkrun?) or longer, depending on the event that you are training for.

Long repetitions of perhaps 4 minutes or more with short recoveries, around half the time of the effort, can also be very effective so, instead of a 20 minute tempo run you could do 5 X 4 mins, 4 X 5 mins or maybe 2 x 10 mins. The recoveries should be active as this helps to disperse the lactic acid.

You may also want to train your body to tolerate the acidosis in the muscles. To do this you may run repetitions but, rather than jogging or walking for the recoveries, you would stand still so that the lactic acid accumulates and then you teach your body to tolerate it whilst running.

You will certainly benefit by scheduling some of these sessions into your programme, but you must also allow recovery from these harder sessions so an easier day or a rest day should follow your anaerobic training sessions.