Threshold Running Pace is the gold standard measure of endurance running fitness.
It’s a useful yardstick because it measures elements of both your speed and endurance. It provides you useful feedback on your current form across all distances from 5km to marathon. This blog explains what threshold running pace is, how to test it and how to use the results to improve. Knowing your threshold running pace is valuable for three reasons:
- It indicates your current running fitness
- It can be used to create pace-based training zones
- Test results can be used to predict your time or pace for other races
What Is Threshold Running Pace?
It simply refers to your current best average pace for a 60-minute race. It is an approximate indicator of your lactate threshold running pace – the exercise intensity at which the blood concentration of lactic acid begins to exponentially rise. Thankfully, testing your threshold run pace does not require blood samples to be taken. Workouts done at threshold pace can develop your ability to endure a greater and greater intensity of effort for a longer and longer period of time. When used as part of a progressive training plan, threshold training is a potent way to improve your running ability.
There are two ways to measure your threshold pace.
Option 1: Take part in a 1-hour race
This is the most accurate way to measure your threshold running pace, but also the hardest. It requires you to run hard in a competitive race setting, ideally on a fast, flat route. The event you choose will need to take you approximately 1-hour to complete at race pace, give or take a few minutes. This might be anything from 8km to a half marathon, depending on how fast you can run. It doesn’t have to be exactly 60 minutes long, but as near as possible. Let’s say the race takes you 57 minutes or 63 minutes, that’s still good enough providing you race hard throughout. Measure your pace throughout the race, using a smartphone, GPS watch or accelerometer watch. What was your average pace throughout the entire race? This figure (in minutes per km or minutes per mile) can be said to be your new threshold running pace.
Option 2: Perform your own field test
This is an easier way to work out your threshold run pace, but it can be marginally less accurate. You simply need to do a 30 minute solo time trial run on a flat route with no training partners. Why no training partners? When you run with others in a race setting you will naturally push yourself harder than ever. This solo 30-minute test should reflect what you might do when pushed in a 60-minute competitive race situation. Again you’ll need some way of measuring your average pace throughout, such as a GPS watch or smartphone.
- Start with a warm up of 15 minutes, mainly easy jogging with 3 or 4 short accelerations up to your approximate 5km race pace
- Begin the 30 minute time trial. Press start on your phone or watch and run at your fastest consistent pace for 30 minutes. In other words, run at the fastest pace you think you can maintain for the entire test. After you’ve completed the 30-minute test, stop your timer.
After the test is finished, look to see what your average pace was across the entire 30 minutes. This is your new threshold running pace.
What to do with your threshold run pace.
Once you know your threshold running pace, you can compare it against any previous tests you may have done to track your progress. If you did a 10km or 10-mile race to test your threshold pace, you can also start to predict what time you might achieve for various other race distances. There are numerous race predictors, but Runners World has some of the best. You can also set yourself pace-based run training zones. We have our own training zone calculator, which you can use to set yourself five different training intensities based on Threshold Running Pace. We use these zones in all our training plans at myprocoach.net.