For the past few years, I have been both a student and an advocate of lactate threshold training. The numerous benefits it presents has helped me perform at a very high level for consecutive seasons. Such a concept has helped me improve vastly and consistently throughout my career. Despite being very busy the past few months because of coaching duties, I’ve shown no signs of slowing down. This is what I wish to impart to anyone who’s willing to embrace a smart and scientific view on multisport performance.
With our A races just around the corner, there is a greater sense of urgency to take our training a notch higher. We need to justify what we invested in preparing for these events. Going into the final few weeks of the build with a mediocre game plan (or lack thereof), will be a waste of money, time, and effort. All athletes, especially those who are time-constrained, need to be smart with training and racing. The greatest return on investment (ROI) comes from a specific, focused, and structured training approach backed by science and experience.
1. Finding your lactate threshold will allow you to avoid the dreaded bonk.
We’ve frequently seen people push too hard at the start of the race only to slow down immensely midway or towards the end. Oftentimes, people are too fixated with the idea that we have to keep on pushing ourselves and that failure means we gave it our all. In truth, proper pacing is key to having a successful race.
The lactate threshold, simply put, is the point of diminishing returns. Small increments in effort past this point would yield smaller gains. As you grit your teeth and attempt to push beyond it, you’re just digging yourself a deeper hole. Knowing this “redline” will allow one to maintain a fast effort yet still stay fresh to finish strong.
2. Knowing your zones will allow you to structure your sessions well.
More important than actually knowing your lactate threshold is knowing your training zones. Lactate threshold is just a single number that is more important for events lasting close to an hour. While it is still a metric that is used for pacing purposes during races, the more important data values are your lactate levels across your entire power range.
It is well known that the Gold standard of lactate testing is blood, its accuracy and precision is unmatched and the amount of data it produces is rich in content. Case in point, through incremental step blood sampling, we get to plot the lactate values for each given effort (based on power or pace). By breaking down the curve based on lactate values, we derive the correct training zones for each individual. This supersedes the formula-based calculations for zone training, which from experience are extremely inaccurate for most.
With these training zones, one would have a better idea on how to approach training sessions and races as a whole. For example, for a tempo run, one needs to maintain a steady yet hard effort for an extended period of time. More often than not, people tend to go too easy that they don’t maximize the training session, or push too hard that they fail to maintain the correct intensity. By knowing what zone corresponds to a lactate concentration of around 2.5mmol/L, the athlete will have a guide to what pace he/she needs to maintain.
Going further, the lactate curve gives us our critical power for different durations. Based on his lactate values, an athlete preparing for a 70.3 has a critical power of 160w for 3hrs (CP180 of 200w). With this in mind, we can plot out the best race strategy for him. This gives him the best chance of avoiding over fatigue and the sensation of jelly legs on the run.
3. Analyzing your lactate curve will help you address your limiters.
The terms aerobic and anaerobic have been thrown around all too often, however, people lack a proper understanding on how these two systems interplay. A common misconception is that one shuts off while the other works. In reality, both function at the same time at different percentages. For someone who’s aerobically weak and anaerobically strong, he may tend to do well for short events but fail miserably for longer events. This is mainly because his two systems are unbalanced such that even at easy efforts, he already has elevated lactate levels (because of his strong anaerobic dependence).
Conversely, for someone who does well in long distance events but lacks the speed to perform well in 5km races or Olympic distance races (i.e. a Diesel engine), he/she may need to strengthen his anaerobic system to give him the necessary power and explosiveness. While being very strong aerobically is a good thing, a weak anaerobic system will hold him/her back.
As we count the weeks to TU2 and Cebu, we have to ask ourselves these questions: Am I doing the right thing in preparation for it? Am I addressing my limiters for these events? And, most importantly, Do I know the best strategy for my race?
If we say “NO” or lack the answers for them, it would be wise to #KnowYourNumbers and have yourself tested.